WHO AM I?

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TWELVE AROUND TABLE this morning, as of long ago, gathered for burning bush encounter the rabbi said all could and should know. With genius insistence on open hospitality, Jesus gathered people around – thankfully, eucharistically, speaking of God in the midst of them, in-their-flesh, in 'adamah, earthed and in touch, breathing ruach, God-breath, communion, in and through and for and all around them – in and on and of Genesis ground.

There are times, many times, when it seems that God's message for all of us is, as Fr Richard Rohr often reminds us: “Don't get rid of the pain until you have learned its lessons.” Hard though it be for us to grasp, desperately disinclined to undergo it, brokenness heals us into wholeness.

Unfortunately, Fr Richard goes on to reflect, “we have the natural instinct to fix pain, to control it, or even, foolishly, to try to understand it. The ego always insists on understanding. That’s why Jesus praises a certain quality even more than love, and he calls it faith. It is the ability to stand in liminal space, to stand on the threshold, to hold the contraries, until you move to a deeper level where it all eventually makes sense in the great scheme of God and grace.” (Adapted from The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered)

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And, of course, some of us have no other choice available to us than lonely grace and space into which to speak our prayers and our questions. For some, some of the time, as for Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred in 1945, there's no other option available. But the life and witness of this pastor called our attention to the Jesus who calls people to round table, to pray and to stay and to question together – breathing the life of communion: a higher, lower, deeper, broader, wider dispensation, the kingdom of heaven.

WHO AM I? – Bonhoeffer asked … Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

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WHO AM I? They often tell me I stepped from my cell’s confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a Squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me I used to speak to my warders freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me I bore the days of misfortune equally, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of? Or am I only what I myself know of myself? Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Church remembers Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pastor & Martyr on 9th April

 

SOWING THE SEEDS OF LOVE

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EARLY NIGHT with books called for. But what a great day. An hour’s less sleep but warmth and early evening light in exchange. Good deal. And 150+ lovely folk, young and old, sowed the seeds for our Resurrection Garden at Kaleidoscope Mass (link) this morning to the strains of Louis Armstrong reminding us all that it is, indeed, A wonderful world. Afternoon communion with very long-serving mothers in our local hospital … many, many shades and hues; many, many rich colours; many, many perspectives on the glorious gift of life we’ve all been given.

Love is a flower you’ve got to let grow John Lennon

THANKSGIVING UNITES

I OWN A LUMP IN MY THROAT during the course of our eucharistic celebrations for “Thanksgiving Sunday” today. There’s something deeply touching in the sight and quiet sound of a couple of hundred people slowly “going up” (a glorious Hebrew image if ever there was one) – offering thanks – gifts of prayer, time, talents, cash, financial pledges – and reverently placing all of these in a large African basket at the heart of our House for the Church. Bread and wine, orange juice, tea, coffee, sherry and croissants help to further cement the relationships. And a “hymn of the heart” rose out of the silence for one lady.

Yes, gratefulness makes us “turn around” and think again. The religious traditions of the world speak of “repenting” – or turning and seeing things with renewed sight in better light. Thanksgiving (what the Greeks called “eucharistia”) binds and unites humankind. Thankfulness creates bonds of love between couples, families, friendships and nations.

Gratefulness, thankfulness, in whatever tradition we stand or create – contributes to “the Kingdom of Heaven”.

Blessed be God!

Thanks for Thanksgiving here

FRETFULNESS TRANSCENDED

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Life’s fretfulness is transcended. The different and the novel are sweet, but regularity and repetition are also teachers

Mary Oliver – on Prayer

SHARING IN A HOUSE COMMUNION with someone temporarily or permanently unable to celebrate Eucharist with the wider household of faith is always a special occasion. Jesus was a genius. Jesus understood the profound significance – for all people, of all faiths and none – of shared elements of sustenance. The sharing makes for connection – and it seems to me that there’s a danger when we try to limit too much what we mean by a “holy communion”. Holy communion, connection, the act of shared hospitality, the “eucharistic” act of thankfulness, for God, for provision, for one another, ought to be wholly – as well as holy – inclusive.

Yesterday I shared in just such a communion. My long-suffering friend who, aided wonderfully by her husband, bears disability and illness with consummate grace, told me simply and quietly upon receiving the sacrament, “Thank you. Now I feel connected again.” Which led on to coffee and biscuits – natural extension of the eucharistic gifts, as lunch and supper would be, later, in every household upon earth, be we, as the old school hymn had it, “low or high” – and a couple of hours whiled away remembering and praying and laughing and hoping and faithing. Believing in life. Communicating. Wholly communion. God is good.

MATTHEW

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I’D NEVER HELD HIM until this morning. Twelve years of living under the same roof but I’d never even touched him. Unlike me, Matthew didn’t do touchy-feely – except in a mildly irritated sort of a way with his sometime blue partner, and in more recent years, since the latter’s demise, with his own reflection in a red mirror. Every other budgie I’ve lived alongside has been tame to an index finger. Some have talked. But Matthew, perhaps the prettiest of them all, youthful looking to the end, could fly straighter and faster than an arrow until he, literally, lost his legs to what appears to have been a stroke this week. This morning, after a long night, we visited the local vet and the little chap has been buried alongside Peter, pictured above, in 2003. Matthew was 12 years old.

And I learned a bit more about St Francis last evening, about his connection with all created things. Francis talked to animals, and I believe that they, in their turn, “talked” to him. The Church Council meeting happened around me, across the way at the church, but throughout, part of me was sitting beside a little yellow friend, lying quietly on his side, breathing softly, waiting. I want to record here that when I returned to the vicarage I prayed with Matthew. And I told him that he was precious to me. I thanked him for the joy he’d brought to many. Matthew loved company and could shout down the loudest church meeting, or hoovering (!), with a one-bird version of the dawn chorus. His name and his beauty are known by many.

Throughout the night Matthew the little yellow budgie didn’t takes his eyes off mine. Bright, until the light in him was finally extinguished, I quietly whispered, over and over again, “Close your eyes little one. All will be well.” And time and time again he closed his eyes as I breathed the words. Time and time again I felt that we connected. Then came the dawn, and the visit to the vet, and the preparation for his return to the earth. And for the first time in twelve years I held the little chap in the palm of my hand and felt connected with St Francis, and with all I have ever loved, love now, and will love in the future. “Sprinkled” with the “holy water” of my tears a tiny, tiny lightweight, “asleep” in the palm of my hand, explained to me why it is that there’s an ache in the centre of every living thing that will never go away – until the day when we’re finally home in the palm of God’s hand, until the final “letting go”, until the ultimate, joyful, healed and tearful reunions, and the longed for connected-communions. Until with huge relief – and with a steady eye – we’re HOME.

Only connect. That’s the drive and the impulse I’ve recognised in probably each and every human person I’ve ever encountered. The perpetual ache is because we’re afraid of our need to be held, afraid of our need for “communion”. But we learn. We turn away. We push away. We silently cry out into the dark nights of our souls. We hurt, we ache, we keep trying, and we keep learning, “until the kingdom come” … until the “wonder, love and praise”, until the great AMEN.

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?

GLANCING …

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THERE’S AN ENCOUNTER with Heaven in William P Young’s The Shack  that has left an indelible mark on me. It’s a vivid, vital vision of colour-expressed emotions

a wash of ruby and vermillion, magenta and violet, as the light and color whirled around and embraced him …

Countless connections. Whirling. Swirling. Shimmering. Glowing. Loving. Forgiving. Embracing. Changing. And – ever since I read the book – gifts of daily such “visions” have delighted me.

The artist Wendy Rudd recently encouraged me, and a group of friends, to let go of “right brain” connection sometimes and let “left brain” make itself heard. I’ve blessed her many times for that encouragement. I let go of mental overload, on a fairly regular basis, by listening / looking instead to “left brain”, allowing wordiness to become colour and image. And colours – perpetually glancing, gently bumping and bouncing into and through one another, make connections and communion …