NATURE?

CAN’T SLEEP. Watched Rev which helped the winding down process after the Annual Parochial Church Meeting. Ate pizza with friends – for which oh so many thanks. But can’t sleep – again – and the diary’s full tomorrow, and pretty much for the rest of the week. And actually it’s not the church meeting itself that’s keeping me awake – not this particular one, anyway! But I’ve been haunted all weekend by a photo-piece under “World” in the Times.

The full horror of nature: A heavily pregnant zebra shows dignity in her final moments as she is eaten alive by spotted hyenas in Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya … she remained stoic and dignified to the end – photographer Marc Mol

I cried. Her beautiful eyes looking straight ahead – as though directly into mine – whilst being savaged to death. Oh, dear God, I cried. And I cannot erase the photograph from my mind. And the trouble is that the mind’s eye picture is a flickering one. Sometimes the eyes are those of a beautiful, beautiful zebra. Sometimes the stoic dignity is to be seen in the eyes of a young Syrian mother in a hospital bed – recovering (?) from having set herself alight, a living beacon of human distress at her enforced inability to provide for the children who stood by her whilst she burned – being savaged. Sometimes they’re the eyes of beautiful people, deeply in love – being savaged by an institution that preaches about love like there’s no tomorrow.

How’re ya doin’ Vicarage?

Well: wide awake actually. Again. And wondering how on earth I find myself spending hour after hour listening to debates about hymn books and service papers when we live in a world that’s crying out – looking me dead in the eye, whilst being savaged – stoically crying out for mercy.

I cannot bear to share these pictures here. Better to share a raindrop, a tear, if you like, reflecting a whole wide world. And I don’t want to hear that it’s not a vicar’s job to keep innocent zebras free from the threat of hyenas. They taught me that in the seminary a long, long time ago. But it is the vicar’s job, and everybody’s job, to keep persons protected from savagery – and at any rate I’ll never stop longing for the day when “the lion shall lie down with the lamb”.

Pray, pray, pray. Let’s leave the hymn book on the shelf for a day or two. No more beating people over the head with the Bible (anyone’s Bible) – lest some sad day we ourselves be knocked dead by our own crude and blunt weapons. Couldn’t we have a few days off spouting badly-understood creeds and misused sacred scriptures? – Reflect a bit upon our terrifyingly destructive ignorance? – Try to get a handle on the richness, the unity in diversity, the poetry of life?

And ACT. Gird up our loins. Speak up. Speak out for an end to each and every act of human savagery and self-centred, self-satisfied, religious obsequiousness. In God’s “dispensation” either everyone’s in or everyone’s out. And anyone reading this is called to be human and humane – and not a spotted hyena.

LORD OF LIFE, help me never to stop reflecting upon the grace with which zebras – and you alone know how many beautiful humans – “remained stoic and dignified to the end.”

Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy. And thank you. Thank you that Jesus wept. And for that resounding and tomb-shattering clarion call – LAZARUS! COME OUT!

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?

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.

AGITATION FREE?

THE STATE OF PERPETUAL AGITATION is one of the features of life in the early years of the twenty-first century, and perhaps a little too frequently in the Church as elsewhere. And we’re learning, fast, that this is not a healthy state: it’s not what we were made for. “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee” is how St Augustine of Hippo put it. And his was a prayer very dear to the heart of Mother Teresa – whose very great (and hands-on practical) love for humankind, and especially for the dispossessed, arose directly out of her love for silence in the presence of the God who created – and is still creating – all of us.

We cannot find God in noise and agitation.
Nature: trees, flowers, and grass grow in silence.
The stars, the moon, and the sun move in silence.
What is essential is not what we say but what God tells us
and what He tells others through us.

In silence He listens to us; in silence He speaks to our souls.
In silence we are granted the privilege of listening to His voice.

Silence of our eyes.
Silence of our ears.
Silence of our mouths.
Silence of our minds.

…in the silence of the heart
God will speak.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta
from No Greater Love

KING ON A COLT

A KING ON THE COLT of a donkey (Mark 11.1-11). How much more plainly can you portray a desire for a world blessed with a deeper humility? Could anything be more ungainly – even tragi-comical – than the sight of a grown man, probably using the strength of his own legs to help the little animal, ‘riding’ towards Jerusalem – “the city, or ‘vision’ of Peace” – on the colt of an ass? Is this triumphant entry? Or is it real and divine identification with lowly humanity – and indeed the perceived ‘lowliness’ in all Creation?

The Gospel tells us that this king entered and “looked around at everything” in the Temple. But at this critical moment in his life he didn’t stay there in “church”. He headed out to Bethany (in Aramaic, ‘house of, or for, the suffering – ie, everyone) – to a house warmly and humanly familiar to him as a place of welcome, hospitality, conversation  and rest. The home of his beloved Mary, and Martha, and their brother Lazarus.

Perhaps, then, for a hug? For tears maybe, and for more gentle words of encouragement shared between each of them, in company with other learners, at the outset of a week that he may well have known would change if not the world, then at least the locality. The week in which he’d say to a thief crucified alongside him “Today you will be with me in paradise” – raising that thief and all humankind to the status and dignity of God’s “only begotten Son.”

The Source of all our lives created, and is still creating, the possibility of a holy communion between all humankind, and all created things.  Let go of the power, suggests king Jesus, loosen your grip, get down from your Roman steed and walk to Jerusalem with the people. We belong to one another, fickle or thieving, disloyal, scared, opinionated or oppressed – as any of us are, or may be. We’re all  ‘Adamah. Dust raised up into life. Matter matters!

Sir John Templeton asks:

Maybe enthusiasm for worship and adoration of god can be multiplied when we no longer limit god to one tribe or one species or one planet but rather humbly search for unlimited love and purpose and creativity vastly beyond limited ancient human concepts … ?

Possibilities: John Marks Templeton, page 20

Yes: we’re all  ‘Adamah. Dust raised up into life. Matter matters!

See also Maggi Dawn: triumphal entry? or pilgrimage?

INVINCIBLE SUMMER

In the middle of winter I discovered in myself an invincible summer - Albert Camus

I THINK I’VE BEEN WAITING all my life for Cynthia Bourgeault’s Mystical Hope. Aware of a sense of vocation to the Christian priesthood at the tender age of 8, I have since then been more and more and more convinced by the tender inner voice and touch of “the Anointed” (the Christ) than by “revivalist” assurances of reward for the religiously verbose and assured, and eternal torment for any and all who don’t sign up to a particular dogmatic line.

More convinced in each succeeding day that the Divine Love (Who Cynthia Bourgeault refers to as simply “the Mercy”) intends, at the heart and kernel of all things, and at their ultimate fulfilment, to draw all Creation into perfect love and peace – what Camus called an “invincible summer” – one that he had some experience of in the here and NOW. A hint, an encouragement, a taster of such a life, in the heart of his own life, in the body, in the here and now.

Mercy imposes no conditions. And, lo! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us. And everything we rejected has also been granted. Yes, we get back even what we rejected. For mercy and truth are met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another

General Lowenhielm, quoting Psalm 85, in the film adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast, in Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope.

I couldn’t begin to do justice to what I’ve read of Mystical Hope thus far, though I don’t doubt that I’ll return to it in these musings again and again. What I can do, rather unusually for me, is assure anyone who happens upon this note that, if they’re touched by a vision where “Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another”, they should, with all speed, get hold of a copy of the book.

This is the business and the gift of contemplation and meditation. It changes lives. It changes mine. It’s eye contact like that between Mother Teresa and the infant in this photo. Each contemplating the soul of the other. Righteousness and bliss. This sort of vision sees into souls – we into God’s, and God’s into our own. Resting in the tender hands of Divine Wisdom. The Mercy.