When people learn that I rise about 3.30am, the first question they ask is “What do you do at that time in the morning?” In what I hope is a non sanctimonious voice, I usually reply “I read and pray”. I then hopefully await the question “What do you mean by prayer” and if it doesn’t come I usually volunteer the answer “Prayer for me is about awareness” and, if a glimmer of interest is shown, I further volunteer that prayer is of three kinds (vocal, meditative and contemplative) and my practice in the early hours of the morning is contemplative. If there is still a glimmer of interest, I relate the story of looking at one of Rembrandt’s masterpieces and reacting
(a) Vocally : “What a magnificent painting!”
(b) Meditatively: silently thinking about its significance.
(c) Contemplatively: silently and non rationally allowing the painting to impact upon you.
The conversation with the enquirer usually comes to an end at this point and before I can give an illustration of contemplative prayer. If by chance I was asked for an example, today’s effort would probably suffice. Let me outline it to you.
I am currently using a book by Frederich Buechner entitled “Listening to your Life”. It is conveniently divided into daily portions and on the 19th May 2014 I wrote the following summary and personal comments
The God’s are dying! The Gods of our world are sick unto death! What Gods? The Gods we worship.
Science: The God that was to redeem the world from poverty – and gave us the nuclear bomb.
Communism: Magnificent in its promise of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – and so bloody awful in practice.
Democracy: The gospel of freedom for all – and its exploitation by the powerful.
The God of the Traditional Church: The God who asks so little, promises so much and sanctifies our foreign policy, business methods, political views and racial prejudices.
Where is the life they promised?
The awful truth is that the Gods are not worthy of our ultimate trust
I really would like to live my life again. I am not anxious about it and am content to make the final words of Jesus my final words. But, knowing what I now know, it would be great to be able to give it a second go!
Today I was in church when an overwhelming sadness hit me. On the third Sunday we have a shared liturgy, meaning many people participate in a service that uses a service booklet. They are guided by highlighted sections indicating which parts they are to read. This service entails the seats being arranged not in the usual way, facing the front, but in two sections facing each other. This helps us all to feel part of a worshipping community who are on a journey together. What made me sad was that many people I was facing were over 70 yrs of age. They varied in gender and looks, some faces etched with lines and sun spots and some with the lingering beauty of their younger years. They represent a family to me, a family which has travelled life’s ups and downs together, sharing the joys and sorrows, grief and struggles of being human. Their faces reflect all the experiences they have had in that time, some shared and some private, and the wisdom they have stored up along the way. Many shuffle to their seats, fall asleep during the sermon or just look weary. Others are now having trouble remembering what their job for the day actually is. Yet there are many others who are still vibrant and full of energy, supporting those less able and engaging as best they can in the wider world. All have been faithful in their own ways to the divine presence expressed within them and in the universe in which we live and breathe. All have sensed the call to be followers of Jesus, trying to be better people and producing a better society and world.
Yet as I look at them with love, I know that time does not wait for anyone, and that in 5 or 10 years many of those faces may not be with me or I with them. How I my heart aches with that knowledge. Already we have lost some of our community, and the prospect that there are many who are now very ill makes me shudder. Yet I know that is the way of the world. This is how it should be, this is how life is supposed to be. As I was pondering this future loss, many of the children brought in the communion elements. These bright, happy and excited children reflect the next generation who follow us and the future that they bring.
God remains in the world, in every living thing, old and young, black and white, male and female. God is the hope and light within everything that lives and breathes. God never says we are too old or too tired. In the very essence of who we are, even when our health and memory starts to fade, God is always present, as though we are within a vast ocean and the ocean is in us.
As I was heading home from church I heard a song on my son’s CD, called “Old Friend “ by Angus and Julia Stone.. This is a brilliant song performed at their Grandfather’s funeral. It reflects how I feel about my travelling companions. I don’t know where you are heading for now, but I am damn sure I am going to enjoy your company, your love, your guidance and your wisdom before you head off. And when you do go I will have an ache in my heart far more powerful than memory alone.
Here is the song and the words….
You seen the days when the roads were death, And the fires burned right to the brim, And the bike you rode to school now it rests, And your story begins.
You read your fair share of books, You tied your lace a thousand times, And you saw the good in the worst of the crooks, And your story begins, and your story begins.
The sun it burns so I jump right in, I felt the cold sea kiss my skin, I turned around and you were gone, And Im thinkin of you, thinkin of you.
Old friend where you headed for now, Old friend where you headed for now.
Window frames of old pictures of you, And the tree outside appears on end, And you seen the good in the seam of the crop, And your story begins, and your story begins.
The sun it burns so I jump right in, I felt the cold sea kiss my skin, I turned around and you were gone, And Im thinkin of you, cant stop thinkin of you.
Old friend where you headed for now, Old friend where you headed for now, Old friend where you headed for now, Old friend where you headed for now.
A budget that seems to cut into those least able to look after themselves, not only here but overseas! I wrote this piece for the Uniting Churches Revive magazine which this month is going to focus on “Action”, but it seems appropriate to post it here….
Paul Tillich once said, “Here and there in the world and now and then in ourselves, is a new creation”. One could not have a better summary of our life in faith.
Every ounce of who we are as God’s people has to be reflected in action. Who we are, how we live and who we belong to are all tied up in the life we lead, both as individuals and as a church community. We do not exist as human beings with little boxes for this or that, but as a complete integrated package. Heart, mind, soul, and hands and feet.
Jesus, for so many people an object of worship but not a political or social activist, focuses our attention. We do not belong to Jesus because he saves us for a life else where. We belong to Jesus because he shows us how to live here and now with God as our centre, how to live with love, and how to live in community with others. You only have to read the Sermon on the Mount to understand his vision for a new social order. As Lorraine Parkinson suggests, it is a blueprint for the best possible world.
The impact of Jesus was both personal and political. He was concerned with the transformation not only of the individual, but also the social conditions that surrounded them. At a time when the kingdom of Rome was overpowering he offered another kingdom, the kingdom of God, based on love, compassion and justice. This is the kingdom for which we speak, protest, write letters, and generally make a nuisance of ourselves. It is for those who are marginalised and excluded and who do not have a voice that we act in the world.
As individual churches it is time to gather and answer the call of Jesus. Dave Robinson preached at our church last Sunday. He put forth a premise that was part horrifying and part challenging. He had asked friends who are German and church ministers a question at dinner one night, “if all the German churches had opposed Hitler, would that have made a difference….” The answer from those present was a definite yes. Dave then asked us a question. “Did we think that it would make a difference if all the churches in Australia spoke out against injustice, the lack of compassion and the violent nature of our society; if all the churches were opposed to our inhumane treatment of refugees, at our obsession with money and defence at the expense of those least able to look after themselves; if all the churches spoke up about the effects of climate change on the poorest in the world; if all the churches that confess Jesus as lord actually followed his teachings and how he lived?”
This is where the rubber hits the road. Perhaps we can start with us.
And perhaps we can use as a guide the ideas of Michael Morewood (which I have used before, sorry for the repeat). To be the church in the 21st century, maybe we need…
- To constantly affirm the presence of the sacred in people’s lives.
- To proclaim in speech and action that human loving and decency are intimately connected with the sacred.
- To be gracious, welcoming and generous to all.
- To take risks, and be prepared to be unorthodox if compassion calls for it. For this is what Jesus did.
- To seek what is common ground, not in terms of a religious package of beliefs but in terms of our human experience of God.
- To look outward, beyond one’s own religious community and concerns. To look especially to the concerns of social and environmental justice and ecumenism.
- To act against evil and not tolerate behaviour that is clearly contrary to the Spirit of love. Even and especially by our government.
- To trust that the spirit of God works in the body of the faithful and all need to be heard.
So when we speak of action, it is not a separate reality but at the core of our faith and our journey, individually and as a church.
The answer to Dave’s question is “yes”. It will make a difference!
I write this having just survived by oldest son’s 21st birthday party. A great time was had by all, I think, but it was a huge job to organise and then to run. Nathan had people present who had known him since he was a baby, and others who have known him just since he has been at Uni. And there were lots of people in between.
We did do a few formal things, including having some speeches. My husband Matt gave one, as did a couple of Nathan’s closest friends. But the one that sticks in my mind and heart is the one given by my youngest boy, Patrick, who is almost 18.
Now he has never been a great public speaker, and it’s not something he looks to do, but he did agree to this. And it wasn’t what you would expect.
The thing about speeches normally is that they always say the good things, the great things about people and what they have achieved, how they are the best sportsman, the best at school, the best friend, husband, brother, son…. , in fact the person being spoke about is quite often, the perfect person.
But the problem is we are not perfect, none of us. We have our moments when we are less than perfect, we are less than perfect brothers, sons and definitely parents. What holds us all together is love.
This love is not the physical sexual love that can overwhelm us and is often driven by our hormones. Rather it is the deep seated love between people, between families, the love that connects us to one another. The love found as we travel the road of life together. The love that accepts slights and rudeness, laziness, and forgetfulness. The love which can get over the arguments that come when we disagree and the hurts that come when we feel neglected. This love is made of tough stuff, enduring and transforming. This love remains even when we aren’t perfect. For this love has within it forgiveness and renewal as well as connection.
So Patrick stepped up to do his speech. For him Nathan is not perfect, he’s a wild driver, has a temper which was on display during a surfing confrontation and is a bit lazy and egocentric, spending far too much time in the mirror for Pat’s liking. But in the end they are brothers, surfing and spending time together. They are brothers, but also best buddies. In the end there is love. Paddy even managed to say those magical words in public to Nathan, an achievement in itself for someone who is 17.
What I loved about the speech is that it was funny and real. Just like all of us. Not perfect, just real. And perhaps a little funny as well!