WHO AM I?

dietrich_bonhoeffer

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!

Annunciation2014

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

 

LONE FISHER?

SLOWLY BUT SURELY I’m regaining strength, and if not exactly full of energy am not needing to sleep around the clock quite so much. Awake enough to realise how much I miss contact with the parishioners, friends and family who’ve kept faith with me, and have prayed, and wished, and delivered French beans to the doorstep, and kept in touch. Awake enough to realise how much I miss the daily prayer and reflection that I do through reading and writing, as much as through silence, and meditation, and the liturgy of the Church. Awake enough to realise that I’ve taken for granted the energy consumed in maintaining contact with many, many precious people across the years and that – in what Fr Richard Rohr calls “the second half of life” – there’s going to have to be a bit of careful self-regulation required if energy is to be available for the things that really matter (namely the said maintaining of contact with the said precious people … )

It’s our connection with one another that matters, above all else, it seems to me, for the future of our world. No sportsman, I’m nonetheless missing the “Olympic spirit” of the past few weeks almost as it were a physical hunger. My heart is battered by the sights and sounds of injury, insult, torture and torment and killing in Syria right now. And God knows how many other places besides. And it’s for want of connection – for want of the realisation that when Jesus wept over Jerusalem – (ironically, translated, “Vision or City of Peace”) and many another prophet besides, before him and since – he was weeping for the arrogance, the profoundly ignorant stupidity in those members of the human race that believe they’re in sole possession of every religious thought and word and deed that matters. For not only is that untrue it’s also dangerous. Such stupefying ignorance and arrogance costs lives. The lives of children, their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and grandparents and role models. And often the very lives of the ignorant themselves. And that’s not (bearing in mind that I speak from within my own tradition) “Christian”. Neither is it humane. Neither is it what we were created for – being truly human.

“The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” said Jesus. For the life of the world. And the “bread” that he gave and gives was his life – the same life, the same breath that  fills our lungs and animates our bodies, and that we’re called to “give for the life of the world”. The life of the world. Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t building a Church so much as building a new vision for our world. A world where connections and empathy and sympathy and mutual respect matter as acts of creation.

I made the photo attached to this post whilst on a recuperative visit to “sea air” ten days or so ago. Perhaps you’ve spotted the lone fisherman? Or maybe (especially if you’ve clicked on the image to enlarge it) you’ve spotted that s/he’s not alone. Closer inspection reveals the moving presence of others. We’re not alone. We’re not built to be entirely alone. We’re built to be connected, to one another and to the One who built all things. We are to take care of ourselves. And we are to take care of one another. And that means sometimes asking questions about our religious assurances – and standing on a quiet seashore often enough, quietly enough, to begin again to hear some Real answers to our prayer – “as the waters cover the sea …”

KAY

Kay Eleanor Howe: 2/8/2000 – 19/9/2010

CHURCHES IN BRAMHALL have been praying for many months for Kay Howe. Her grandparents are dearly loved members of the congregation at St Michael & All Angels Parish Church. Kay’s Godmother is a member of Bramhall URC Church. Her family home is in Holland.

Kay has been battling with leukemia, lovingly supported every step of the way by her parents Rob and Marion, her siblings, grandparents and an unseen host of people in different parts of the world who have been inspired by, moved by the story of the Howe family’s courage, grace and dignity.

Kay died this morning. And the news came as a physical punch, a blow to the stomach. And accompanying the dizzying stars in all of our eyes there were, and are, hundreds of question marks. Why? Why? Why?

And I want to write for all to see: I simply don’t know.

But I DO KNOW that the source of life and of love in Kay, in her family, in the tender hearts and hands of medics and of other carers, in countless pray-ers in these long past months, has shone in and through them in a way that leaves me more assured than ever, even in the midst of their and my most anguished questions, of a loving, benevolent, knowing God into whose depth and mercy Kay has now entered fully and in the most perfect peace … one that is beyond all our present imaginings, and yet almost as near to us as we are to ourselves. And the knowing has enabled tears to flow from my eyes for much of the day.

QUESTIONS, wonderings, reaching out into the unknown are the stuff of our days. I question, in company with others, the theological position and judgment of the Church I love and serve, and, amongst other branches of that Church, that of the Roman Catholic Church. And yet in spite of the questions I offered loving and grateful thanks tonight as I waved at the tv screen, with a lump in my throat, and wished Pope Benedict XVI a safe flight home to a well earned rest. I find myself humbled anew by his grace, by his perseverance, by a love that drives a man of 84 years of age still to strive to proclaim a gospel of peace, a gospel of faith, of hope, of love, notwithstanding that he, like me, sometimes, and in certain situations, has his “Achilles heel”, blindspots personal and corporate, and sometimes appears to some to fail.

For whilst questions are the stuff of all of our days, heartache is too. And whilst I’ve frequently seen evidence of highest love in the hearts, and actions and lives of some of the most ardent atheists one could ever meet, I know also that I recognise in the sacrificial lives and examples of countless “religious people” a necessary Faith, a longed for Hope, and an indispensable Love.

I am moved and grateful tonight for the conversations that have taken place the world over between people of faith and people of no faith. May there be ever more respectful conversations between the rich and gloriously diverse peoples of the earth. May it be that those who are presently angry, or grieving, or marginalised are brought especially to the highest and most honoured seats in the halls of those conversations. I hope and pray that we will continue to find common ground, common love between us: because when any of us find ourselves asking Why? Why? Why? (as all of us must) when faced with wrenching anguish – like that felt when we’re parted from dear loved ones like Kay, we NEED EACH OTHER.

We NEED GOD. We NEED LOVE.

Kay: rest in heaven’s peace. You ran the race. You win the prize. Pope Benedict: sleep well, and thank you for your prayers.