So its Monday morning, and I am back on my couch ready to reflect on this second week mainly at home.
I had lots of ideas that have come and gone about what to write, but then before sitting down I read the morning paper.
Again full of COVID-19 stuff, very very scary numbers from Italy, from Spain, from the US, and of course the crisis with the cruise ships here in WA. But I also read the Opinion page by Jenna Clarke and the Anxiety Aunt column. And it hit mean, well it had already hit me but it was re-enforced by what these women wrote.
I have been trying to write hopeful things, in my blog and in my sermons, reflecting on the kindness being shown and encouraging people to see the light (and God) amongst the darkness of these crazy times. Yet I want to pause for a moment.
Because I am one of the lucky ones, I am not going to be jobless, I still have all 3 of my jobs, because they are in teaching, church work or at a hospital! Yet so, so many people, mainly young people do not have theirs.
I have a son who has embarked on his first professional job, and has started that process of becoming truly independent, moving into a unit with a friend, and living his own life, albeit with a weekly trip home for dinner. At the moment he has his job, and is still “free”.
But what of all those who have lost jobs, maybe their first one, or the one that enables them to study, or the ones who are embarking on families for the first time, like my niece, with a baby due in early May. Her support and joy will be tinged with the sadness that she can’t share this amazing time with her extended family and friends.
And what about those who have had to move back with parents, if they can, without going insane. As Anxiety Aunty says, in response to the letter she received about this, “the world is insane, the situation we have found ourselves in is absolutely bonkers. If anything retaining your sanity would be the maddest thing you could do right now”. Probably good advice!
She goes on to say, that while appreciating the kindness and compassion of people is good, “Your Aunt is not going to tell you the coming year is going to be fine. It probably will not. But your Aunt would like you to do something. Wake up in the morning, wash your face, brush your teeth, look in the mirror and say, this too shall pass. You have given up your adult independence, this too shall pass. You have lost your job, this too shall pass. The trajectory of your life has been interrupted, but this too shall pass. Remember life is long and can throw you many curve balls. Hopefully the next interruption to your life will be a wonderful one”. In the meantime you might need to learn how to cook! (I added that!)
I loved Anxiety Aunt’s response because it acknowledges that the time we are living in at the moment not easy, there is grief and sorrow at things lost, and huge challenges are facing all of us. But it is part of living, and sometimes living gives us curve balls, massive curve balls. Some are huge, like the death of a loved one, a whole family or a child, or a terrible health diagnosis, and some are more global. Just think of our grandparents and parents who were suddenly told, by the way there is a war on so off you go and fight it for us. With no say in the decision at all. And some are like this, a pandemic, could we ever have imagined that this is how we would be living in March 2020. Being told that we can’t even go and meet with more than 2 people, when one is us!
So let’s take a moment to weep. For the things lost.
Let us weep that our seniors who are being asked to self- isolate from the things that give them joy, children, grandchildren, friends, and for many church.
Let us weep for our young people, whose jobs are lost, whose lives are on hold, who might need to move back in with mum and dad, if they can, to survive.
Let us weep for those who don’t have a support network, who are on the streets, without protection, and who find the new unstable world a very dangerous place.
Let us weep for the children whose homes are not safe, where school provides protection and direction. Who are frightened by the change that is coming.
Let us weep for those with mental illness who will find the social isolation very difficult. And for those who provide services to all those marginalised in our society and are overrun with requests for help.
Let us weep for those who are ill, in aged care, or who were to have elective surgery to restore them to health but who have to wait, and wait and wait again.
Let us weep for the hospital and health workers, who are working non stop but are fearful that here in WA it will get out of control just as it has done in other places.
Let us weep and acknowledge that life has been stalled and it is time to reassess and re-orientate ourselves.
Let us weep and then acknowledge we have the power to change how we live in this crazy time.
So what can we do!
Share things that will brighten peoples day. Let’s put the teddy bear in the window, even if it’s at our parents place. Connect as best we can with our neighbours and our community and show as much love and concern as we can. Wake up and choose one thing to do that will make a difference to someone else. And yes, even post things on our social media platforms that may bring a smile.
I honestly believe when we do these things something happens to us. We lighten up, we realise by sharing and connecting we touch something at the very heart of being human. We touch the interconnectedness found at the heart of life. I find I also connect to the divine presence that gives life to everything, but that’s just me.
Either way, as Anxiety Aunt suggests, this too shall pass. It’s what we do while its passing that will make all the difference.
Just a thought.
With that thought I would share a poem, one of my favourites from Mary Oliver. Poetry, like reading, feeds the soul.
In the storm
Some black ducks
were shrugged up
on the shore.
It was snowing
hard, from the east,
and the sea
was in disorder.
Then some sanderlings,
five inches long
with beaks like wire,
snowflakes on their backs,
in a row
behind the ducks—
whose backs were also
covered with snow—
they were all but touching,
they were all but under
the roof of the ducks’ tails,
so the wind, pretty much,
blew over them.
They stayed that way, motionless,
for maybe an hour,
then the sanderlings,
each a handful of feathers,
shifted, and were blown away
out over the water,
which was still raging.
they came back
and again the ducks,
like a feathered hedge,
stoop there, and live.
If someone you didn’t know
told you this,
as I am telling you this,
would you believe it?
Belief isn’t always easy.
But this much I have learned,
if not enough else—
to live with my eyes open.
I know what everyone wants
is a miracle.
This wasn’t a miracle.
Unless, of course, kindness—
as now and again
some rare person has suggested—
is a miracle.
As surely it is.
As I sit here, at the dawning of a new day, it’s slightly weird, but in some ways refreshing.
I have been out for a walk, well a jog and walk, got to keep healthy, been up to woollies for some toilet paper, not for me but for my neighbourhood in case people have to go into lock down. I also got flour, as I thought, rather crazily, that I might bake a few things to give to people to cheer them up. I think as a reminder that they are not forgotten behind their doors! In this I take the example of Alex Sloan, who used to make pumpkin scones and delivered them far and wide.
I now am trying to learn how to use zoom, as I have to run tutorials tomorrow with my UWA students from home, and thinking up ways to keep the church congregation engaged, connected and positive. I have even thought of streaming or at least videoing our church services which have gone into recess, to put on our new webpage, soon to go live!
Suddenly, like many, I have to become more adept at IT, and the online world.
As I sit here the door is open and the breeze is flowing in, gentle and comforting. The sky is blue and the lake and trees where I walked this morning were glistening in the sunlight.
I hear the love shared from across the road as my beautiful neighbours say goodbye to their daughter and her son.
Yet I know, reinforced because I was a RPH last week, that there are many people working on our behalf. Doctors and nurses who have to don protective gear, which is incredibly daunting to wear, in order to properly nurse patients and care for those who are ill. I had to practise putting it on and off in case I am called as part of my role as an oncall chaplain. My anxiety levels went high just doing that!
So let’s do what we can to minimise the infection rates, and send our love and thoughts to all those working to keep the rest of us healthy and well. Not only the medical profession, but those in research, those teaching others, both in schools and universities, those looking after the marginalised, the homeless, and the less well off. Those who are delivering as fast as they can, food , and yes toilet paper, and those working still in shops and supermarkets and pharmacies.
I am lucky, as I sit here, for I know in my heart that life will go on, It may be slower, and less complicated ( although I think IT is pretty complicated) but it will go on, for life has a habit of doing that. Just when you think all hope has gone, suddenly a green shoot pops it’s head out.
Easter this year is going to be a lot different than normal. But the message is the same. There is death, but there is also resurrection. In our lives and in the life of the world.
Out of the darkness will come the light.
There is a poem from Wendell Berry, in which he urges people to practise resurrection. I love it. Here is an extract from it –
Excerpts from Wendel Berry’s Poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer liberation Front”
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mould.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Perhaps we to are to practice resurrection, as Wendel Berry says in his poem, today. We are to live as though resurrection is always possible, within ourselves but also within others, and within our world. And work towards it with God’s help, transforming life out of death, hope out of suffering, compassion out of apathy and community out of profound alienation. To create a new society, a new creation based on love.
In this extraordinary time, maybe that’s a good aim to have. Just a thought!!
John 4: 5-42
I was at Uni yesterday teaching evolution, it’s only for 1st years so the level is quite low. To open the lab I asked the kids to do a brain storm on the board, dividing the board in half. On one side they were to write all the reasons they could think of as to why one shouldn’t learn about evolution, and on the other side all the reasons one should.
On the negative, most said it was boring or there were too many facts, but they all had long positive lists, which included finding out more about who we are, where we have come from, and how we are to go forward. Some also included the idea that evolution gives us a window of how related we are to one another and to all of creation.
However, all my groups said that one reason not to learn evolution was because it clashed with faith. Or as one smarty pants put it, God says no!
Although I was expecting this, it still comes as a shock. They all think you can’t believe in evolution and God, as though the two are mutually exclusive.
I always like to address this idea subtly, and explain that while there are some people of faith, all faiths, who believe the bible literally and therefore might find evolution tricky, the vast majority of people see their scriptures as story, myth, poetry, prose and some history woven together into a message about what it is to be human and where and how we find the divine.. And they wouldn’t have a problem with the idea that we come from a line of monkeys or are even related to broccoli.
We didn’t discuss it further but it’s crazy how that idea persists.
In some ways it’s about knowing. They, as 17 yr olds, generally think the only way of knowing is through science. Give me the facts and I will understand the world. But there is another way of knowing, what Rob Bell called mythos, about what lies beneath the facts, that lies in our experiences and our awareness at a very deep level. It cannot be measured other than our outward reality, of how we live and interact with people.
I think this is what the reading today from John is all about. And because we see in Jesus the God of our experience, we understand it through his eyes, his life, his teachings. He leads us on the path of knowing.
Today we have the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jacobs well. This, while following the same theme as the Nicodemus story we heard last week, operates from a completely different perspective. Rather than a pious well off Jew, who could not get this head around the spirit of God being present in all, and giving life to all, regardless of whether you believed in his miracles or followed the Torah law, the facts of his day, we have a Samaritan women, despised by the Jews. A woman who had very little power or position in society, and was probably also a sinner and outcast, considering her marital status. So Jesus speaks to a Samaritan, a woman and a Jew. Already very countercultural and probably quite dangerous.
What is the message? Jesus quickly moves from his request for well water to his offer of living water. As with the born again statement from last week, the phrase has both earthly and heavenly connotations. Jesus is offering the spirit of life, the living water of God, that is more true than the well water, or a spring to quench the woman’s thirst. Rather this is a spring that leads to love and compassion, justice and peace. It is as essential as water, leading us to a life that can be rich and full of meaning, or as Nev would say, to fullness of life. A truth hidden behind his words.
But there is more to the story, that also speaks to us about how we should live with one another. Another hidden layer.
The Samaritan woman, thinks firstly that Jesus is a prophet, and then maybe the Messiah. Either way she bears witness to what he has said, which is itself shocking. Why would the town people take the word of this outcast woman about a Jewish man they had never met? The power of the woman’s faith alone, contrasting with Nicodemus’s official authority is amazing.
So the story today is also a story of inclusion. From Nicodemus to the Samaritan woman, God’s love is not simply for the Jews from whom the story begins but for the entire world. Gods spirit is in all and for all people, not just the rich and well off, not just the educated and elite, but all people. Black white, rich or poor, male or female.
And not just for those who are righteous, or think they are righteous. We are human and make mistakes, but the divine presence does not leave on a whim and return when we get things right. God is on the journey with us. Life is messy and the God of the universe is right there with us.
As Jack Spong says, “Jesus is a barrier breaker. Before him falls the human division first between Jew and Samaritan then between women and men and thirdly between sinner and saint. A vision of the realm of God begins to come into view”.
So whether you believe the story really happened or not, or whether the well is really “the well” found in Israel, doesn’t matter. For this is the essence of who Jesus was to the writer of John. Radical, inclusive, loving and compassionate. Jesus represented, reflects, embodies God in these characteristics, these qualities.
As Paul Tillich puts it, “the particularity of Jesus life and message points to the universality of God’s love and presence”. Every person is a God carrier, a tabernacle of the holy spirit.
So Jesus points us to a grander vision of life, for us and everyone and for all of creation, one that everyone can experience.
This is the truth of this story. A truth of his story. A truth as powerful as anything science can dish up.
This is one of the shortest posts I have written. In a time of uncertainty, when kindness and patience and love are needed, there is still also time for joy. Let me share a wonderful poem from the wonderful Mary Oliver. It’s called “Don’t Hesitate”, and it’s for everyone.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins.
Anyway, that’s often the case.
Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.