So we are opening up things! Little by little, we can go and have a coffee, or dinner with a few people, go for a swim or into the gym for the first time in ages.
Where does that leave those who are still on the couch!!!
Well, when I look back at the last month, I realise I haven’t been on the couch all that often. Most of my work has continued, but using an online platform, zoom, or YouTube or communicating via email and text, or even the good old phone.
In fact, I have been busier work wise than I was when we weren’t locked down.
So I was a bit envious to see what people were trying to do when they were supposedly not able to go anywhere. I read that lots of people wanted to learn a musical instrument, a new language, to garden more, cook more, renovate more, in fact just do more of everything.
Self-improvement, house improvement, relationship improvement were all on the agenda.
Yet here we are, about to come out of our isolation and suddenly people are asking, what have I done! Because I also read the other day that as we move back into our normal or slightly normal routines we might have to face isolation regret.
Ah the regret that comes from not doing what we thought we might, while locked down. In fact, we may realize, we still can’t play that guitar, speak Spanish apart from Ola and still haven’t yet written the first page of the novel we had an urge to write! And what about the spring cleaning of the whole house, and decluttering! Even while working at home I had high hopes of doing this.
While I am sure some people have achieved amazing things, what about the rest of us. Crap, I need more time!
But isn’t life that like, that we aim high, but often fall flat. We image ourselves as something that we aren’t, make lists of things we are going to do, attempt to achieve those things, those changes, and then are surprised when our lofty ambitions, remain just that, lofty ambitions.
I have suffered from this as much as anyone else. For many years I was known as “Gunna Dutton”, as I had so many things I wanted to do, like run a marathon, be a world leading scientist, write a novel, become organised, with only a quarter getting done. Actually I haven’t done any of these things!
But as I get older, and hopefully a little bit wiser, maybe it the things we have done that count, not what we haven’t.
So if you have spent time with the kids playing ball, watching crazy movies or cooking pancakes, give yourself a tick.
If you have read one book, trashy or not, give yourself a tick.
If you have tried one new recipe, or in fact just been cooking at home rather than going out, give yourself a tick.
If you have taken a walk, even to the letterbox (hopefully a bit further), give yourself a tick.
If you have rung someone, texted a friend, emailed or in any way communicated with people outside your house, give yourself a tick.
If you have felt gratitude to the life we have, and the people who serve us either in government , health, school or in the supermarket, or anywhere, give yourself a tick.
If you have managed to clean one cupboard or small space, give yourself a tick.
If you have managed to get off the couch sometime during the day, give yourself a tick.
Sometimes when we aim high, we miss the gifts we already have and are exercising.
Don’t fall for isolation regret, instead we should cut ourselves some slack. Life is a journey, and it’s the journey and the people in it that gives us life, not what we have achieved along the way. Particularly in a Covid-19 pandemic!
My son has just started a graduate position at a law firm that does a lot of local government work. He recently was asked to do some research looking at the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on contracts, and particularly when the contract has not been fulfilled. Apparently, in the absence of any specific rules, parties may instead seek to rely on a more generalised “Act of God” provision to protect themselves from any potential liability
I won’t go into the details of the legal argument, but it did start me thinking about the term “Act of God”.
“Act of God”, I wonder what people think when they hear that term. That God is sitting somewhere in the sky, away from the Hubble telescope and Voyager, smiting us when we do bad things, and rewarding us when we do something good. Or worse rewarding those that think or believe a certain way and punishing those that don’t.
Historically, these are ideas about God we could find in the bible if we looked, in the Book of Proverbs in particular. Funnily enough, another book in the Old Testament contradicted this way of thinking. In the Book of Job, Job ends up on the ash heap, having lost family, income, basically his life, even though he is a fine upstanding and faithful individual.
And of course, in the New Testament, Jesus was incredibly inclusive, and was heard saying, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. It’s what we do with it that matters (that’s me!)
So, it’s curious that the term Act of God is still around and still used. I know that when used in a contract it means things that are out of our control, like earthquakes and storms, flooding or drought, or in this case a pandemic, but really, do we have to blame God for them, even if it’s not literal.
The problem is, these days there are still plenty of people who see that bad things will happen to people because they are bad, and so the earthquake or pandemic is an infliction brought on us by God. Maybe because we have not been faithful enough, gone to church enough, haven’t followed the rules enough or been too self-indulgent, mean, or power hungry. Basically, been too human!
We don’t need an external deity to bring about destruction on ourselves by the way we live sometimes, either individually or as a community. Sometimes we do a good enough job on our own. Yet when things happen to us, terrible things, often it’s out of our control.
Those of us who suffer, suffer from illness, or from an accident, or from the effects of natural disasters are not reaping the vengeance of an angry God. They are dealing with the thing’s life has thrown at them, sometimes with an incredible amount of stoicism and inner fortitude. This is particularly the case when children are involved. People don’t deserve for their baby to be born with a disability or die from a condition because they have somehow upset God.
I remember going to a church, where a young lad was up the front, being prayed for so that he could throw the wheelchair he had been in for many years, away. Of course, you can pray all you like and that is a difficult miracle to attain, since he had a genetic condition from birth! What was horrendous was that the onus was placed on the lad, that he must not have had enough faith or that his life in other ways must have displeased God. Talk about digging a further whole for him to slide into! I know he left the church, and felt abandoned by the God he thought he believed in.
So where does that leave us.
The God that I trust is with me through thick and thin, when times and good and times are bad, nudging me toward the light of compassion and love and wholeness. And when I can’t find it, others bring that light to me. I do not trust in a God that lives elsewhere and operates like a policeman but rather my belief lies in a God that is part of who I am and all of us.
So maybe we should get rid of the term “Act of God” and call these events what they are, tragic and terrifying and occasionally fatal events, part of the muck and misery of life. Sometimes not helped by us, but definitely not brought about by a malicious, vengeful and spiteful God.
Just a thought.
I have been delayed in putting thoughts to paper on the couch this week. For a number of reasons! All valid I hope.
We lost a beautiful member of our congregation last week, after a long battle with cancer. The funeral is Friday, but it is hard to say goodbye to people who have been in your life a long time, and made a significant contribution to it. So it makes for a slow week.
I also started a part time locum chaplaincy role at Royal Perth Hospital. Which was like coming home in some ways, as I have spent almost all my adult life working there, not as a chaplain mind you, but as a clinical researcher. But this is a new and different role.
So change has been on my mind, how do we face change, which we are all having to do at the moment, with Covid-19. How do we incorporate it and move forward, knowing that our life may not return to what it was but be something else. For change can be difficult, frightening, challenging, and heart breaking, particularly if we weren’t looking for it.
But sometimes we need it. And hopefully we will be different, maybe more open and wiser, after it.
Funnily enough, each day at hospital the Pastoral Care Department starts with someone taking reflections, and the person yesterday used Michael Leunig’s prayer about change, rather apt really. Here it is –
God help us to change.
To change ourselves and to change our world.
To know the need for it. To deal with the pain of it.
To feel the joy of it.
To undertake the journey without understanding the destination.
The art of gentle revolution.
Leunig gives a definition of God before he gives us the prayers, which I will also put here, in case you think I have reverted to praying to an external deity.
“I use the word ‘God’ conscious of the fact that there are many who may find it objectionable – and others who may find my casual use of the word too irreverent or shallow. For all sorts of reasons people can be very touchy about this word; in my view they seem either too earnest, too proprietorial, too fanatical, too averse, too phobic… There is however no ultimate authority or definition. The word is yours or mine to make of it and hold or discard it as we will…”God” as a sort of shorthand password, an inconclusive folk word, a signpost, a catalyst, a spark, a stepping stone, a simple makeshift handle … A simple robust word used lightly and loosely or as devoutly and deeply as we might feel – a bridge, and a way to break free from this material world for a moment or two, a day or two… or for what’s left of a lifetime.”
So change is difficult, and often is foisted apon us, when all we want is for things to stay the same. But change is also necessary, for without change there can’t be any growth. Sometimes staying the same is the easy option, but growing, exploring, venturing inside of ourselves, venturing outside of ourselves, helps us to be all that we can be in this world.
There’s another prayer by Leunig which I have always loved –
We pray for another way of being:
another way of knowing.
Across the difficult terrain of our existence
we have attempted to build a highway
and in so doing have lost our footpath.
God lead us to our footpath:
Lead us there where in simplicity
we may move at the speed of natural creatures
and feel the earth’s love beneath our feet.
Lead us there where step-by-step we may feel
the movement of creation in our hearts.
And lead us there where side-by-side
we may feel the embrace of the common soul.
Nothing can be loved at speed.
God lead us to the slow path; to the joyous insights
of the pilgrim; another way of knowing: another way of being.
Change may only come if we see the necessity for it. And if we don’t take time, that insight will never come.
So it’s okay to have a slow week!
Just a thought.
I haven’t been on the couch very much today! Too busy with a zoom bookclub meeting and preparation for Uni teaching, and a walk, and talking to the neighbours, and watching a bit of “The Crown” over lunch and, and, and….
Then I remembered that I wrote a blog some time ago, based on a book, called “The Art of Stillness, Adventures in Going Nowhere” . Seems totally apt that I revisit that blog for my “Reflections from the Couch” series. Since we really can’t go anywhere!
Okay, so here I am, two weeks after my last blog, ready to share what I have read in this intervening period. I have selected as my first book a small offering, as I have been laid low with a cold for most of the time. I know, excuses, excuses.
Yet this book is really a gift. It is called “The Art of Stillness, Adventures in Going Nowhere” by Pico Iyer, and it is a TED book, based on a talk he gave some time ago.
Pico Iyer is a travel writer, and has travelled the world for about 40 years in search of stories and experiences. But he has discovered that our best most fruitful travel is done when we stay home. When we find stillness in the course of our days and when we explore our inner world instead of just rushing from one event or job to another. When we stop, even for a little while.
Pico uses as his starting point a conversation he had with Leonard Cohen, who he calls later in the book, “a 70 year old Zen master”. It is Cohen who leads him on an exploration of stillness. “Going nowhere, as Cohen described it, is the grand adventure that makes sense of everywhere else. It isn’t about turning your back on the world, it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply”
I love that. We are a part of the universe, part of the stars and planets, and part of nature, yet we act as though we are just flying by, and that the rest of the natural order is just here for our own amusement. Where is the awe and wonder that ignites our imagination and equally our care?
Brian Swimme remarked that if the stars only came out once every year, or every 10 years, it would be a cause for huge celebrations and incredible amazement, but because they come out every night, we can happily ignore this most spectacular event. We walk around with our eyes closed.
In fact, I think that awe and wonder is lost in our busyness.
As Pico says in his book, “sitting still is a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it. Going nowhere is a way of cutting through the noise and finding fresh time and energy to share with others.” To find our awe and wonder.
It doesn’t have to be religious, although all the great religions and philosophers have at their heart some form of stillness, or meditation or spirituality practise
But it does seem to require letting go of things, and that can be scary, even for a moment. To let go of those decisions we have to make, the power we hold, or even the information that is out there begging us to read or listen to or respond to is hard. We are almost programmed now to look at our computers or phones endlessly, as though if we don’t know what is happening we will be left behind. I find these days that I have become slightly obsessive about my social media, and overwhelmed by the number of emails. Something has to change!
Many, many people are now realising just how counterproductive that is, and are allowing some technology free time into their lives. I say yes to that. As Pico writes, “the point of sitting still is that it helps see through the very idea of pushing forward, indeed it strips you of yourself, as a coat of armour, by leading you into a place where you’re defined by something larger.”
Sitting still, not doing anything, seems a good place to start to change these crazy dynamics, to take a breather. To remove the clutter and distraction of our hyper active lives. To leave space for other possibilities to enter. To listen.
But Pico doesn’t suggest we sit still for hours, but instead find some way to cultivate a period of stillness into our everyday lives.
So we could all start by just taking a few minutes each day to sit quietly and do nothing. Just do nothing. As Cohen says, “to clear the head and still the emotions, and the to-do lists”.
Or we could just sit quietly for 30 mins every morning
Or we could if we desire a bit more direction, take up meditation, or yoga
Or take regular walks in nature, so that our connection to the whole of creation seems more real, more tangible.
Or you could go fishing, where you can linger for a long time with the hook in the water
Or go for a run, a long loping run that enables you to breathe in the life that is all around us. Running, or in my case, jogging, can be a profound form of meditation.
Whatever you choose, I have already decided that going nowhere is a good place to start.
As Pico summarise –
“In an age of speed I begin to think nothing could be more invigorating than going slow.
In an age if distraction nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention.
In an age of constant movement nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”
In honour of Leonard Cohen, a 70 year old Zen master, sadly gone, and the inspiration for this book, here is a clip of one of his most famous songs, “Anthem”.
“There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.
Let’s hope by taking some time to develop the art of stillness, the light might get in!
So welcome to reflections on the couch number 4. I am actually a bit weary on the couch today, after turning a real church gathering into a virtual church gathering. I have not gone the streaming road, as many churches have done, but have concentrated on getting a power point ready with songs and liturgy, and preparing a sermon, which for Easter Sunday was a video presentation. Never did I think I would now be on YouTube! Someone has even signed up for my channel.
Anyway I have had lots of feedback from people who found the material useful, and I hope uplifting and challenging in equal measures.
But one bit of feedback was really wonderful.
This lovely person, who is herself suffering from a great loss, introduced me to a famous folk singer/songwriter who has recently died due to Covid-19. His name is John Prine. Some may know him, me, not really. But the person letting me know wrote beautifully about the role Prine had played in her life, and her husbands, and how bereft she felt hearing that he had gone.
Now, surprisingly, I used Joan Baez’s version of “God is God” in my sermon, and it turns out she was a long term friend of John Prine. Baez has put out a video of one of John Prine’s famous songs, when she heard he was seriously ill, the one most often played, and the one requested most often in her concerts,.
It is one of the most memorable and moving songs you are likely to hear. It’s called “Hello in There”. It spoke to me so powerfully, I hope it does to you.
The link to the video is below, and the reflection from the couch is to watch and listen to the song, and go out and listen to others by him. If you do you will be introduced to a man who had such insight, heart and compassion. A huge loss for the world at a time when we need more of this.
I am sad that I have only be introduced to him now, but so glad that I have been.
In this time of social and health upheaval, when so much of what we have taken for granted has been changed, how does the faith community respond?
Very well I suspect, as in our DNA there is found a call to help others, to be community and to share what we have. Regardless as to which faith tradition we belong to.
But what about prayer? In the past week, I have been asked to pray for someone who is a refugee in Sydney and without money or support, except from an incredible Catholic nun and her order and from us and others (just to let you know that prayer without action is somewhat empty, more on that in a minute!). I have seen one of my colleagues prepare a prayer space in his home, where his whole family can go and reflect, find some silence and gratitude, and commune with the divine. And I have had someone who I teach with suggest that anyone who prays is deluded, and didn’t we notice that the enlightenment occurred, and science is everything. In fairness to him I suspect he is attacking those who pray for a car space, or magically, the end of the COVID -19 pandemic.
So how do I see prayer, when I don’t believe in a external deity who decides willy nilly to intervene in human affairs, particularly if we pray hard enough. But neither do I believe that science has all the answers to what it is to be human.
Well, firstly let me lay on the table what I do believe, or place my trust in. I trust that the divine presence is found in all people everywhere, and has since the beginning of time, a mysterious presence, a creative force so central to life and all its goodness it cannot be distinguished from us. For me all people are carriers of this light for it is found within all people, at all times, and in all places, from the beginning of the universe until now and into the future. It drives us to be better than we are, both as individuals and as a society and a world, even if we don’t acknowledge or worship it.
So if this is how I see and experience God, then prayer for me is an awareness of this presence. Or as John O’Donohue says, “prayer is the art of being present to God.”
Most people think there are different forms of prayer, but actually I think they are all tied up with this same aim, to be aware of this spiritual presence. And somehow respond to it by how we live in the world. So prayer is actually tied up with the here and now.
And it can be anything. Our awareness can be heightened, if we look, in our ordinary lives or at times like this, our extraordinary lives. We can become aware through our relationships with one another, in working and advocating for peace and justice, in wonder and awe of creation, in gratitude for life, in church, in music, in gardening, in making things, in meditation and in silence. All this is prayer. We can pray in this way our entire lives. In any of these ways, it’s about becoming aware of the ultimate reality that binds us all together.
As one of my favourite theologian and authors , Frederick Buechner writes,
“Everybody prays whether they think of it as praying or not. The odd silence you fall into when something very beautiful is happening or something very good or very bad. The ah-h-h! that sometimes floats up out of you as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the sky rocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else’s pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else’s joy. Whatever words or sounds you use for sighing with over your own life. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to yourself but to something even more familiar than yourself and even more strange than the world”.
But what about the type of prayer we all may have problems with – prayers for others, or intercessory prayer. This is the time, when things are going crazy, that people often turn to this type of prayer, and use words that sound as though they are calling upon a magician. Yet this type of prayer is like placing clothes on something that is already at work.
For God is not somewhere else working as a bellhop, coming when we call. God is right here already. And if we are Christian, we are being called us to respond to that inner presence seen most clearly in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
So what do we do when we pray for others or pray with others.
I think we raise an awareness of God’s spirit in and around them and us.
John O’Donohue suggests that, “prayer for others is an ancient longing”. Maybe it’s not so ancient. We pray for others because we long for others to have life and love and support and justice, health and happiness. To have fullness of life . It’s a prayer of longing that with God all things are possible. Not that we have to pray for the spirit to be working, but we pray to join that spirit, to be part of the working out, so that we become aware of others. And we are changed. We are transformed. And this is the clutch of it, it’s about transformation not rescue.
As Mother Teresa has said –
“I used to pray that God
Would feed the hungry,
Or do this or that,
But now I pray that he will guide me
To do whatever I’m supposed to do,
What I can do.
I used to pray for answers, but now
I’m praying for strength.
I used to believe that prayer changes things,
but now I know that prayer
changes us and we change things”
I have used for many years a quote about prayer, and unfortunately I don’t seem to know where I got it from, but I think, for me, it nicely summarises prayer in all its forms (I have added to it over time) –
“Prayer for me has always been a yearning, a cry from the heart, a silence in which we might hear the sound of the wind or the feel of love and sense of knowing. A blessing for the things we see that are beautiful and breathing and astounding, or a lament of things too sad, too unspeakable to accept or contemplate. Prayer is something about awareness, deep awareness, of our gifts and our limitations, of our thanks and our wishes and hopes that things would be different. Prayer is about connecting to the spirit within all things, bringing life and love, and realising we are also connected to all things. Prayer is about being human and what we can do with that reality for others. It can be individual, but some of the most powerful prayers are communal. In very deep ways prayer is found in our living, as well as our words.”
Anyway these are just a few musings on the subject, which I think has more mystery than many think.
In the meantime I will light a candle and say a prayer for my refugee friend, Nazar, and continue to send him money. And hope that after this crisis has ended, we will be a more caring, compassionate society, looking after those who are not as lucky as we. I trust fully that the spirit will keep on working through those who will listen! Even if they can’t name it!
Let me put in a couple of Mary Oliver poems to finish.
It doesn’t have to be the blue iris,
it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak
“I Happened to be Standing”
I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.
While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.
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.