Something about Mary!

As our website is being redeveloped I am going to put some of my sermons here, and this one which I gave on Mothers Day, is particularly close to me.  I focus on the Gospel of Mary, something I have wanted to talk about for a long time….

I have been pondering this sermon for a little while. I want us to journey away from Easter, even though we are still technically in the Easter season.

Journey into our own lives and time and place.  But carrying the message of Jesus with us.

How do we do this.  Well, I want to focus on one of the major players in the Easter story. Jesus story and our story.  A player who has been forgotten or demonised or pushed aside.  Who was there, and who tells us much if we are to listen.

I want to talk about Mary Magdalene. All 4 of the gospels say Mary witnessed the resurrection.  Three of them name her as also present at the crucifixion, and in both Matt and Mark she is named first among the women who stayed and watched.

To understand more fully her role, I downloaded the movie Mary Magdalene that was released last year and watched it.  It is powerful and controversial in some eyes, because it not only depicts a beautiful woman who was one of the disciples, but a Jesus, who is raw, and earthy and believable.  And other male disciples who just don’t get it. Poor Jesus. Jesus was of God, but not god.  He was pointing to a new way, but not a way of violence but peace.  A way of love and forgiveness rather than exclusion. Everyone was to be included in this new order, this new kingdom. And  still the disciples wanted some sort of powerful response.  Maybe like us.

Let me show you a clip in case you didn’t see it, this is actually the promo for the movie …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x18fgYITXwc

Today I want to read a section from the Gospel of Mary, written around 80 to 180 CE whose main figure is a woman, most likely Mary Magdalene. The movie clearly takes its inspiration from this gospel. It is part of the extracanonical writings, writings that existed at the time of the gospels found in the bible, but not included in the final cannon, because they were branded as heresies or died out before the cannon was put together.  It is believed that over 85% of the Christian literature from the first 2 centuries has been lost.  But some have re-emerged in recent times, in Egypt, the markets of Cairo and the libraries of ancient monasteries. They give us an insight about the diversity that existed at the time of the early Jesus movement and expand our thinking.

The Gospel of Mary disappeared for over 1500 years until a single fragmentary copy in a Coptic translation came to light in the late 19thcentury.  Two additional fragments have been found in the 20thcentury.  It is one of the writings that was found in material from the Nag Hammadi village in Egypt, but it was also in a 5C papyrus codex sold in Berlin in 1896. Although it was originally composed in Greek, most of it survives only in the Coptic translation.  While written by someone else, it records the relationship between Jesus and Mary and the disciples.

A modern translation by Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School professor some 10 years ago has revived this ancient manuscript.

While only fewer than 8 pages survive, with the first 3 pages of chapter 1 missing and 3 pages of chapter 8, it gives an amazing glimpse into a kind of Christianity that existed at the time,  and Mary Magdalene’s role.

As Rosemary Radford Reuther explains, “for the first 5 centuries no writer misinterpreted Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. Rather she was seen as a leading disciple and image of the church.  It is only at the end of the 6thcentury when Pope Gregory the 1st in a sermon confuses the sinful woman of Luke 7 and Mary Magdalene in Luke 8 and identifies her as a repentant prostitute whose former sinfulness is contrasted with that of the virgin Mary, that things change”.

In fact, the anointing given by a women to Jesus while he was alive were not actually assigned in the gospels to Mary Magdalene at all. In Luke the woman who was a sinner has no name while In the other 3 gospels, the anointing takes place in Bethany directly before Jesus passion.  In John, the participants are named,  Mary of Bethany is the one who brings the ointment and Judas is the critic who accuses her of wasting money.

So many Marys.  Perhaps Marys strong witness and presence became a threat to leadership in the earlier church.  Like many female voices hers was removed. The Vatican corrected this view at the time of Vatican II, but the damage was done.  Women have been marginalized for centuries both inside and outside the church, and it continues to this day.

Yet the Gospel of Mary offers a female recounting of a scene in which the resurrected Jesus comes to say goodbye and tells the disciples to preach, just as he does in the first 3 gospels, Matt , Mark and Luke, then leaves them.

With this ancient document, we have another voice, a woman’s voice,  coming through.

Let me read two sections , which sets the scene.

Reading chapter 2, 3 (part), 4

“… Will matter then be destroyed or not?”

The Savior said, “All natures, all forms, all creatures exists in and with on  another and they will be resolved again into their own roots. For the nature of matter is released into the roots of its nature. Those who have ears to hear let them hear.”

 Peter said to him, “Since you have explained everything to us, tell us one other thing.  What is the sin of the world?” 

The Savior said, “There is no sin; but it is you who make sin when you do the things that are like the nature of adultery, which is called “sin”.  That is why the Good came into your midst, coming to the good which belongs to every nature, in order to restore it to its root”……..

When the Blessed One had said these things, he greeted them all, saying “Peace be with you! Bear my peace within yourselves! Beware  that no one leads you astray saying, ‘Look over here!’ or ‘Look over there!’ For the Child of Humanity is within you. Follow it! Those who seek it will find it. Go then, and proclaim the good news of  the realm. Do not lay down any rules beyond what I determined for you, nor give a law like the lawgiver, lest you be confined by it.”

When he had said this, he departed.

In this gospel Jesus teaches them that all things are interwoven with each other, whether material or spiritual.  He teaches them how to welcome true humanity into themselves.  That salvation is recognising their true humanity and warns them from following some heroic hero or a set of rules and laws. Rather they are to seek to find their inner peace, their wholeness in this world, understanding that Jesus, the child of humanity is within them.  Sin is the product of choosing a path away from all that he has taught, rather than some inherited state. We sin when we lose sight of the path he offers.

After Jesus departs the disciples are emotional and tearful, until Mary Magdalene takes charge and bucks them up.  Do not weep and be distressed she tells them and sure enough they pull themselves together.

 Again, let me read chapter 5

 But they were pained. They wept greatly, saying, “How shall we go to the nations and proclaim the good news of  the Child of Humanity?  If they did not spare him, how will they spare us?”

Then Mary stood up. She greeted them all, and said to her brothers and sisters, “Do not weep and be pained, nor doubt, for his grace will be with you all and shelter you. But rather let us praise his greatness, for he has prepared us and made us Humans.”

When Mary said this, she turned their heart to the Good, and they began to discuss the words of the Savior.

 Mary Magdalene recounts that Jesus’ primary purpose is to make us human beings, fully human. Emphasising the goodness of humanity! She turns their heart to the good.

This is actually quite similar to the other gospels, and reveals that much of our doctrine and dogmas about sin, and condemned humanity comes from  later theologians. The gospels of Matt, Mark, and Luke talk about the realm or kingdom of God which is at hand or among you.  And they talk about living in God, living in Christ, and having a new radically new quality of life in Christ.

In Chapter 6  Mary begins to relate some private teachings from Jesus that only she knows, to the disciples. 

Let me read the beginning of Chapter 6

 Peter said to Mary, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of the women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember, which you know and we do not, nor have we heard them.” 

Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you I will tell you.” And she began to say to them these word…..

 Unfortunately, we then have 3 missing pages, but it appears that the teaching is on similar lines, both celebrating the goodness of humanity while seeing the things that drag us from this path.

But the last bits of the dialogue we hear in Chapter 9 reveals something about God.  For Mary related God with the good.  She defines God as the good.  We hear it earlier when the text said, “she turned their heart to the good”. That the rise of the soul is about the journey towards goodness in ones’ inner consciousness, one’s behaviour and one’s relationships.  This gospel charts a personal process of struggles for goodness. And things get in the way. But as Jesus says at the beginning of the gospel, “the good which belongs to every nature, comes to restore it to its root”. When we become a true human being.

Of course, the disciples aren’t thrilled with being lectured by a woman, and Peter scolds her in the last chapter, chapter 10.  Levi interceded, “Peter, he says,  you have always been a wrathful person, assuredly the saviour’s knowledge of her is completely reliable, that is why he loved her more than us”.

He loved her more than us.  It is an image of a human Jesus and a beautiful faithful disciple.

I have totally fallen in love with this writing.

The Child of Humanity is within you. Jesus is within you. God is within you. The good is within you. We are Jesus and God’s beloved, we are loved for who we are, human beings, a marvel of life. And we are called not to some other place, not really even to this church, but to the world.

So, what do we do with this ancient message from a woman who stood beside the human Jesus through it all. Those who seek it will find it, go and follow it.

We think bigger and wider and more expansive. We have the resources within ourselves to change things, to give life rather than death and destruction.  It’s what we choose that is important.

Resources that we sometimes forget are there. We can be kind, we can be creative, we can be loving, and we can be inclusive.

But sometimes our own hurts and sorrows and grief and distractions can hide our resources,  can hide the spirit from us. So that we think we are alone. Yet we know, we are never alone!

Mary reminds us and the disciples that the Child of Humanity is within us and as such can make a difference.  God is for and in all things, making things new.

If we choose.

Today I think of the grief of the whale (a children’s talk focussing on mothers in other parts of creation and the story of a Orca whale who pushed her dead calf around in Canada for 17 days in grief, supported by her pod), as an example of what is happening to our beautiful earth and the many people and creatures on and in it. Sometimes it’s hard to understand how we got to this place in time. Violence, shootings at synagogues, in churches and at mosques.  An earth that is groaning. We and many are grieving. We are human, and we grieve.

How does the future look?

Jean Vanier, who as Dennis mentioned last week started the L’Arche community says, “We are very fragile in front of the future”.

So, as a writer for Sojourners, Kaitlin Curtice, asks, “what are we going to be as we head into the rest of 2019 and 2002.  Who will we going to be politically, religiously, as humans who walk this sacred earth? Will we fight for our churches to be places that welcome the outcast, the woman, the gay and transgender person, and fight against injustice.  Will we be a nation that faces its past in the genocide and oppression of indigenous peoples and continual violence against people who are seeking out protection?”

We know in our hearts the truth of our faith.  The spirit, the energy, the presence of God never leaves us.  We search for that truth every Sunday, with the courage of Mary Magdalene, and in all the days in between.

Today, as Curtice suggests, “we must take each other’s hands, take a hard look in the mirror and ask what our humanity requires of us…

How should the earth be loved?

How should our children be loved?

How should people with disabilities be loved

How should women of any colour be loved

How should our LGBTQI friends be loved

How should our Muslim, Sikh and Jewish kin be loved

How should anyone be loved.

Fully wholly

That is the only way forward.”

Maybe these are things we should hold on to when things get rough and we have doubts.

Perhaps we can hear Teresa of Avila words, a mystic from the 1500s who wrote a great summary in her book ‘The way to perfection”. Another great woman of faith.

Listening to words from the cross she believes Jesus is saying..

All must be friends

All must be loved

All must be held dear

All must be helped

 

Let us say Amen to that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Reason to Celebrate Easter

Here we are at Easter Sunday 2019.  A time and place which seems out of kilter with the rest of the secular world.  Yet is it really! Maybe there is a deeper truth that would resonate even with the most ardent atheist.

Recently I have been listening to a number of podcasts by Rob Bell, one of my favourite progressive preachers and writers.  He has done a series of 11 podcasts on Jesus H Christ, the man, the myth, the middle initial.  I love that title and I have loved the series.  He has taken his listener on a journey through the life and teachings of Jesus and what they meant to those listening and participating in the 1stcentury, and what they mean to those listening and following today.  Placing them in context, socially, politically and historically, but bringing them alive for the 21stcentury.

It is not until we get to the final episode that we find out what the H stands for, but by then most listeners would have worked it out.  It stands for human.  Jesus above all else was a human being, a man, who in his time and place revealed the God of the universe that resides in all of us.  And how God’s spirit plays out in the world and in each one of us, now and always.

This was the message of the 11 episodes.

This is the message today.

Resurrection is not just a one-off event, a miraculous resuscitated body heading to the heavens.  Resurrection is deeply human, and revelatory of how the universe and how the God of this universe works. Resurrection happens everyday if we look around us.  It happened in the disciples, after Jesus had died and they were left to carry on, It happens within communities and countries, it can happen even within ourselves.

So let’s go on a little journey of our own this Easter.

I have returned to teaching after the summer break, back in the lab with students and cadavers, and realise again what a privilege it is to be able to see the human body in all its complexity laid out in front of us.  Thanks to the generosity of those who have donated their bodies to science, and those family who have let them go.

I was thinking of giving up the teaching, it is hard to combine that with church work as a pastor, and family life etc. etc. But as I went through a general overview of what it is that makes us tick, blood vessels, muscles, nerves, organs with some first year students, I realised that the teaching brings me back to the essence of my faith.

Over the years, we have seen Christianity in many forms, much of it focussed on some other life, some other existence, without realising the existence here on earth is amazing, breathtaking, a gift to be cherished, with all its flaws and challenges. I have never ceased to be astounded, even after all these years of teaching!

It is within this gift I find God.

God, a difficult word to analyse, express, or even relate to. Sometime I don’t even want to use the term.

Yet for all my doubts, and over the years I have had many, I have always had the sense of a something more that drives life itself. Not a presence that disappears then reappears because of a sacrificial death, but a presence that is found throughout the life of the universe, and the life of all of creation and the life of every human being. Which is closer to us than our own breath but urges us to connect with one another with love and care and compassion.

Some time ago I asked a number of people to define what they mean by God, people who have been faithful ministers, and people who have just been faithful followers of Jesus and his way. If you were here on Good Friday who would have heard Marion’s.

All of them steer away from a set definition, because it is pointless.  In some ways God is to be felt and experienced, rather than defined. But they have had a go.

I have, over the years, also had a go, particularly when I am grilled by atheist friends who think that I am crazy, to variously describe what I mean by God, I came across one attempt I would like to share, by Barbara Brown Taylor.…

Firstly, a picture….

“Where is God in this picture? God is all over the place. God is up there, down here, inside my skin and out. God is the web, the energy, the space, the light—not captured in them, as if any of those concepts were more real than what unites them—but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationship that animates everything that is.  At this point in my thinking, it is not enough for me to proclaim that God is responsible for all this unity. Instead, I want to proclaim that God is the unity—the very energy, the very intelligence, the very elegance and passion that makes it all go. “

Rather a beautiful description!

Of course I always get a bit reflective like this at Easter time. And particularly Easter day. A time of joy and commitment but also of questions.

When we talk about this extra bit of life, this creative force, this divine presence, how do we describe it, how does it affect who we are as people? Well many, including me, would say we see this presence most clearly in Jesus.

Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was flesh and blood, who laughed and cried, prayed and suffered, who was human like us, regardless of what the church says. And who died a horrible painful death.  A Jesus who confronted the powerful and paid the price. Somehow his story lives on in those that follow.  A story that resounds in our own lives and the lives of everything that lives and breathes on this earth. Even in the 21stcentury.

Can I really see God in this person?  Is God and Jesus one? The gospel writers think so, they write so long after his death, but with such passion and purpose.  While we have varying accounts of the resurrection, some physical, some spiritual, the reality is the disciples were transformed by the events.

Somehow, I believe,  as they did, that in Jesus the God presence was and is revealed most fully.  Somehow Jesus touches us and activates something mysterious within us.  He turns on the light.  His words, limited but powerful, and the response of his followers show us how to act in faith, pointing the way.    If we can become aware of the divine presence within ourselves, letting go our ego or our 21stcentury manic activity driven lives, our response will reflect Jesus’s concerns.  Concern for ourselves that we can be the best people we can be, concern for others that they may be loved and cared for, and concern for the planet and all of creation. Fullness of life for everyone, means in Jesus terms, inclusion and equity and peace and justice for all. God transformed Jesus and God transforms us.

So where does that leave Easter, Good Friday, and particularly Easter Sunday, the pinnacle of the church calendar.  It is here I do not want to mince words. Jesus died for the sake of others, for he reveals that the God spark is a spark for life. That is how Jesus interpreted that inner drive in our world, in the human world. Love, compassion, justice, looking after the poor and the widows and including everyone at the table.

His message challenged those with power, who supported inequality, exclusion and hate. His message challenges us daily just as it did 2,000 years ago.

So he was killed.

Do I believe Jesus rose after 3 days and now sits at the right hand of God?  Well no I don’t.  Not physically anyway.

Why, because God is not sitting anywhere, certainly not in the sky where we see billions of galaxies and where we have just detected gravity waves.  Where is God? God is the power within, the urge to connect and commune. To love.

So where is Jesus?  A mystery that’s for sure.  Maybe his spirit is, like our own, somehow bonded to that which gives all of us life.  The universal divine presence. I like to think that, for we are all bound to the God presence now and forever. That’s why Jesus became Jesus Christ.  That’s not his surname but a revelation that his teachings and actions, and God driven life lives on. Chrsit means anointed not magical.

Maybe the gift Jesus gives us on this Easter day is his human life, his awareness of what we all can be, what we all can do. Maybe his gift is one of life, not somewhere else, but here, in the fragrant muck and marvel and misery of human existence, as Frederick Buechner puts it.  For God is part of the essence of who we are.  It is in ordinary everyday lives that God is fully realised. A God that drives us to new beginnings, to change and transform, and makes life worthwhile. Ordinary everyday lives like ours. We find and experience God when we love, and forgive, show compassion and seek justice, share our wealth and lend a helping hand. When as a church we stand with and for refugees, our indigenous brothers and sisters, and all those marginalised and alone. When we care for one another.

For the resurrection story is not about Jesus, and about a divine resuscitation!

it is how God works in the world, within each of us.  Giving light where there is darkness, renewal where there is decay, hope where there is despair, and new life where there seems only death. Even if it takes a long time!

To fit Jesus into my God story means seeing Jesus as one of us.  A gift of life. A gift of God.

I often ask myself.  How do I do Easter, when I don’t believe the whole “sacrificial payment for sin” line.  Or the “original sin” line, or the line about the “perfect Jesus who now sits at the right hand of God somewhere else”?

I do Easter because it reflects life in miniature.

And Jesus for me, is the ultimate guide.

To finish I would like to read a quote that has been on my pinup board for some time. It’s been there so long I don’t know where I got it from. But it sums up Easter day beautifully for me and hopefully for you,

“In the end Easter is not something to talk about, it is something to do, it is an attitude towards life and other people, it is a lifestyle.  Whether what we say and sing fully represents our rational comprehension of what Easter is about, is relatively unimportant.  What is important is that we are Easter people, that is, people of transformation and renewal, people of hope, people of trust, people who not only believe but know deep down within their experience that love comes again and that love makes all the difference.”

This I believe is the good news brought by Jesus to the world, for as Nev says, if the good news is not for everyone, it is not good news.

And I think, a great reason to celebrate Easter.

Amen

 

I want to show you what I mean by playing a video.  I attended a disaster chaplaincy course a couple of weeks ago and the video was showed there.  It says everything that I have been saying today, in real life, about hope that emerges out of darkness. The video is about the black Saturday fires in Victoria 10 years ago.

Video

 

Meditation or Mindfulness or Both!

I love Headspace.  It’s a program and app by Andy Puddicombe, where he introduces you to meditation and mindfulness with a series of 10 min sessions (can be longer), varying from ones on technique to others on how to become a more rounded and more aware person.  I love his voice and I love the guided nature of the sessions, which focus on the breath as a form of awareness training and are based on his 12 years as a Buddhist monk.

It always give me a lift and helps me become aware of my activities during the day.

The practise of sitting in silence brings a peace to me, a resting of my inner thoughts and anxiety , a recognition that to be alive and breathing is a joy and a gift.   It leads me to contemplate not only my life but the lives of others. In a different way.   How I can live with openness and love for one another  and ourselves?

But it is not Christian meditation, which I also do once a week on a Tuesday, with a few others.

We base this type of meditation on the writings of John Main and Lawrence Freeman, who formed the World Community of Christian Meditation  a number of years ago.

What do I think I am doing in Christian meditation that I am not doing using my Headspace app?

Good question.

When I sit in silence in Christian meditation, I drop my own ego, my own needs and wants, and busyness, and listen.  Not with ears but with heart, to the energy of the universe that enriches and drives us forward, to be better than we can be, more loving, caring and compassionate.

In the silence I believe I am becoming attentive to God, or as Rupert Sheldrake says, the consciousness of God. Not a God who speaks clear words from some faraway place, but the ground of being, the Spirit of life, that speaks to us about what is life giving.  In those times we may sense an inner feeling of peace and belonging.  And purpose. Or in the words of Paul Tillich, what is our ultimate concern, not only for me but for all people everywhere. When I listen I become more fully alive and connected.

Does it work? I sound like I might do it pretty successfully, but that is far from the truth, often I am distracted or fall asleep!

It takes practise and not everyone is interested in following it.  Others may find going for a walk or sitting by the seaside gives them a similar sense of the sacred. But it seems to help me.

But back to the question, Christian meditation or mindfulness.  I think Christian meditation is more than mindfulness, or an awareness of life.  It is an awareness that there is something more to this life, that can be felt, or sensed or discovered in the silence. Its opening ourselves to the spirit of God that can lead us in a new direction. It is adding an extra dimension to all the benefits gained from mindfulness activities. A deep and divine dimension

Where does that leave the beautiful Andy and the headspace app?

Well, where it was.

I still love my Headspace App and Andy, with his beautiful voice and encouragement to be in the moment and will continue to practise this as well.

I think a bit of meditation and a bit silence is good, whatever its form. I suspect God is not all that fussy!

 

Karen

 

 

What would I want to hear in a sermon!

Someone asked me to post this sermon I gave this morning as a blog.  So here it is…

The reading was from the Gospel of Luke.

Luke 13:1-9  

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

  

What would I like to hear in a sermon? Particularly today.

Well after the last few weeks, the things that have happened around the world, the tragedy of New Zealand, but also the floods in Papua, the shooting in the Netherlands and the ongoing suffering in places we now don’t hear about, in Syria, in Iraq, in the Congo, I would want to hear something positive and meaningful about faith and our role in the wider world.  That’s what I would like to hear.

So this sermon is as much for me as for you all.

But to do that I think firstly we have to understand where we are in the 21stcentury.

What is it to be human today, for we have different versions of it.  One version can kill others praying in a mosque, and plant bombs on planes and cars and buildings because of an ideology that insists you are either for or against them.  A version that can destroy the nature world, deny freedom to people, and abuse an economic system for wealth and power. That leaves others in poverty for their own comfort.

Yet we also have a version of being human that displays caring and love amidst tragedy, that works for justice and peace, daily thinks of the other, and when needed responds with compassion to those suffering.  A version that supports the weakest, the poor and the marginalised.

We see it every day, we have seen it this week, this contrast between the evil and the good in the world, yet both are driven by people, sometimes the same people.  People with a history, with ideas and beliefs, and with relationships that can be either positive or negative. Sometimes it is driven by faith, depending on how the faith is interpreted.  God can be the saviour or the destroyer.

How are we to find a way forward.

Let’s find our starting point. I believe wholeheartedly in a God who doesn’t come to judge, who doesn’t send vengeance because we have sinned or are bad people.  Who does not sit outside of humanity, flaying those who have not done the right thing, whatever that is.  Rather I believe in a God who is with us, shares our burdens and fills our souls with hope and light.  A God who is life giving rather than life destroying.  Who even in our darkest hour is ever present.

We live in the 21stcentury and bad things happen to good, peaceful and loving people.  And to neglectful, crazy, mean and sometimes awful people as well.

And today this is what the scriptures says, what Jesus says.

It is poignant that in the reading from Luke Jesus is told some distressing news from Jerusalem.  Soldiers are believed to have killed some Galileans within the temple area while they were in the very act of offering sacrifices.  The horror of the scene is captured in the words, Pilate mixed their blood with the blood of their sacrifices.  Seems too close to home, doesn’t it?

What about the next incident, an accident at Siloam, a pool or water reservoir near the walls of Jerusalem. The tower probably overlooked the pool.  Pilate ordered the construction of an aqueduct to upgrade the water supply, but people have died building it.

Two events, one murderous, one an accident, both shocking. But neither is God’s doing! Jesus asks, do you think they were any more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem, I tell you no!  What about Pilates actions, they are not Gods!!! He is not acting under God’s authority.

Even in the Old Testament, while Proverbs contains the idea that the righteous are rewarded and the sinners punished, we have the book of Job, to counteract this. Job, a fine upstanding Jew still ends up on the ash heap. Because life can be hard and suffering plentiful regardless of what we do or not do.

We know this, but often people, in terrible situations revert back to the idea that they must have done something wrong, that God was punishing them for their wrongdoing, even though it is not clear what it is!

And I have plenty of chaplaincy moments that reflect this. People who believed they were not worthy of God, had made too much money, or somehow had let him down and that was why this terrible thing has happened to them or their loved one.

An awful idea to place on the loving, ever present spirit of life, who even in our darkest hour is ever present. Jesus completely rejects this interpretation here as he does elsewhere in the gospels.

But neither does that let us off the hook completely!

Because there is more to today’s reading than this.

Sometimes we are required to take responsibility for things that happen.  Sometimes we are required to open our eyes, turn around and change our ways, least we make things worse.  Sometimes we need to repent or at least think again about what we are doing.

For in the reading we also hear about a fig tree, the parable of a fig tree. Remember Jesus always used earthy images for his parables, because he was a human being.  Living in a time of great suffering.

Jesus presents us an image of a fig tree, one that is not doing so well.   But the gardener is persistent, let it keep growing he says, even after 3 years, lets tend it, let’s work on it. To see if it will bear fruit. Jesus calls the people listening to him to repent using the image of the fig tree as a guide. We can all turn things around if we try.

So it’s not that Jesus thinks that we are above having to repent, for the image we hear in Luke is used in Matthew after the temple moneychangers have been expelled by Jesus.  In Matthew the fig tree, shrivels the next day.  In Luke we are given more time to get our act together.   But it is not that we are judged by an external deity, ready to reap vengeance. Rather, in Jesus eyes, we are judged by those around us, we are judged by what happens to the least of these, we are judged by the lack of care we take for human and non-human alike.  And our judgement will be seen in the way our societies work and our world suffers.

In other words, what we do does matter.

So  what should we do?  Remember this is a sermon as much for me as for you.

I think we have to tend our garden of love, and compassion and inclusion, nurture and fertilize  it.  Find out what gives life to us and to others and follow it.

A sermon by Martin Luther King in this book of sermons I have (A Gift of Love), describes the complete life as having length and breadth and height. Let me summarise a bit of it. For it gives a great guide.

The length of life is the inward concern for one’s own welfare.  With developing our own goals and ambitions.  King suggests there is a thing as “rational and healthy self-interest”.  He goes on to say that “before you can love others adequately, love your own self properly”.  A lot of people do not love themselves.  Or accept themselves.  Often, we wear masks to hide our true selves from others, going through deep and haunting emotional conflicts.

By not accepting ourselves, not being our true selves, it becomes harder to connect with others because we don’t know who is doing the connecting.  To love well one must also be open and vulnerable and willing to share.  If we are always looking to cover our faults, hide our hurts or are not honest in our feelings and ideas the connection will be tenuous. Yet the message from the gospels is clear. God calls us to love others as God loves us, for God is always present, never absent.  We are all worthy of God’s presence which doesn’t disappear when things get tough.  When we accept ourselves, we become free to give and receive love.

So as Martin Luther King says, “the principle of self-acceptance is a basic principle of life”.

But he goes on to say that “after the acceptance comes the discovery of what we are called to do with our lives.  And once we discover it we should set out to do it with all the strength and all the power that we have in our systems.  This does not mean we are all going to be great scientists, doctors, writers or artists.  Most of us will have to be content to work in the fields and in the factories and in the streets.  But we must see the dignity of all labour.”

This is the length of life.

And many people just do that, they develop their “inner powers and do their job well”.

But in the end, there is something missing.

There is also a breadth to life.  As King says, “The breadth of life is the outward concern for the welfare of others.  A person has not begun to live until they can rise above the narrow confines of their own individual concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity”.  Who will ask, “what will happen to humanity if I don’t help”. What will happen to refugees if I don’t participate in raising concerns.  What will happen to the Muslim community if I don’t embrace our brothers and sisters of other faith and nationalities.  What will happen to my city and country if I don’t raise my voice in protest against policies and decisions that are inhumane and lack compassion.  “What will happen to the sick if I don’t visit them.”

This is how Jesus expects us to act as his followers.  How we are to respond to the urging of the divine spirit within.  The questions, as King points out, are not about “how many friends we have, or how many PhDs we have or how many houses we own, but what did we do for others”.  And when we do that our hearts and lives know that we are being fully human.

This is the breadth of life for King. “Somewhere along the way we must learn that there is nothing greater than to do something for others.  Because we have what we have because of others”, it is a relationship at the core of life.  We are co-dependent on each other for life. Jesus saw this, that relationships are the beginning, the middle and the end, and that love shared is the main game plan for living both as individuals and as a society.

But let’s not stop there.  “A lot of people master the length of life, and the breadth of life but they stop there”.  For Martin Luther King and me and all of you here, we must also embrace the God of the universe, this third dimension of life. The height of life.

Lots of people neglect this aspect, or only bring it out when it is to be blamed of the disasters that befall us, or worst used to justify terrible acts of terror and violence.

As King suggests, “some people say they follow a God with their lips and with their doctrines and creeds but deny the existence of God with their lives.  Instead they concentrate on getting a bigger car, house or into a better neighbourhood”. They forget to look at the great cosmic light, the beauty of nature , and the inner peace brought by the spirit’s presence and pretend they are alone in this world.

But the spirit of God remains, every present in us and in all of creation.

In the incredible world and life we have all around us.  For King, “God is the great I am”.  Life giving and affirming. As he says, “if you believe in him and worship him, something will happen in your life.  You will smile when others around you are crying. This is the power of God.”

And with this power and the words of Jesus to fight on and never give up King asks us to reach out and find the height of life.

Let me conclude by reading the final section of King’s sermon…

Go out this morning. Love yourself, and that means rational and healthy self-interest. You are commanded to do that. That’s the length of life. Then follow that: Love your neighbour as you love yourself. You are commanded to do that. That’s the breadth of life. And I’m going to take my seat now by letting you know that there’s a first and even greater commandment: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, (Yeah) with all thy soul, with all thy strength.” I think the psychologist would just say with all thy personality. And when you do that, you’ve got the height of life.

And when you get all three of these together, you can walk and never get weary. You can look up and see the morning stars singing together, and the sons of God shouting for joy. When you get all of these working together in your very life, judgement will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

When you get all the three of these together, the lamb will lie down with the lion.

When you get all three of these together, you look up and every valley will be exalted, and every hill and mountain will be made low; the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh will see it together.”

This was Martin Luther King’s faith and it made him climb mountains.

Let it make us climb mountains. Even if occasionally we have to reflect on what we are doing, and make some adjustments along the way. For we are to change the world with God’s love, not vengeance.

Amen

 

“A Gift of Love – Sermons from Strength to Love and other Preachings”, Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Beacon Press, 2012

 

When is Christianity Broken? When We Don’t Have a Credible Story!

I have been fortunate to belong to a church community that is open and exploring, and sees doubt as a catalyst for change and new beginnings, not something to fear.

We have been a progressive christian community long before the term was developed, and the Rev. Neville Watson, the heart and soul of the community was a progressive Christian minister long before Borg or Crossan or even Spong were heard of.

Nev himself may not use that term, but ever since I have known him he has been stretching the edges of Christianity, finding an understanding and a path that people can follow faithfully, without leaving their brain or their critical thinking at the door.

He has started up a website with some of his best sermons, plus some of his diary entries, which are very profound, taking us all on a journey of grief and loss after his beloved wife, Marg, died last May.  I will put the web address at the end of this post.

But I want to put one sermon here for you, as a taster if you like.

But before I do, an introduction!

I organised for Michael Morwood to speak at our church the other night, on God, Jesus and Prayer.  Michael is an author, speaker and leader in Progressive Christianity and an ex Catholic priest, for as we know priests who question the fundamentals usually end up ex priests!

He spoke beautifully and passionately about needing a new story of our faith, that incorporates all we know of the universe, and of the human condition.  Not a God in the sky separate from us, but a God found within all of creation.  “A mysterious universal presence, never absent, at work at all times, in all places, in all peoples, all through human history and all through this universe”, a definition found in his book, “Is Jesus God”. I have always loved that.

I have been a fan of his for many years, as he speaks to me in words I already know and felt was part of my own journey from the very beginning.

Last night he called us not to worship Jesus (which I have also felt is weird, for as Dr. Rev. Margaret Mayman has said, Jesus is not my boyfriend) but tell his story. Tell the story of Jesus, and his vision of a spirit filled, God filled life that includes everyone.  A life that saw justice and peace as paramount.  A story about what gives fullness of life, for all people, for you and me.

A rallying call for all those still in a church community.

Then I happened apon this sermon from Nev, written in 2016. Why, because I am trying to sort out my computer and the hundreds of files I have, not only in the computer but on various memory sticks.  My digital stuff is as bad as my paper stuff!

And I hear in Nev’s words a man who has been preaching this message almost his entire life, and acting in the world in a way that reflects this belief, this faith.

Nev has been my mentor since I arrived at the church some 30 years ago.  A person who has influence me more than I could ever say.

Sometimes I need reminding about why that is!

So here is the sermon, I was going to edit it slightly to shorten it a bit, but no I decided just to put it out there.  Funnily enough there is an election around the corner.…

The scripture readings if you are interested were –

1Kings 7:17-24, Luke 7:11-17

I have a minister friend in Victoria whom I see only every year or so. He is exceptionally bright and I can only understand about ten percent of what he is on about. In 2013 he wrote a book entitled “Lanterns at Dusk”. It was not exactly a best seller, and the last I heard the royalties were $13.60. Every now and again, I pick up the book and look through it – probably because on the fly leaf of my copy he has written “For Nev, more of a laser than a lantern.” As always, I am not quite sure what he meant by it.

The other day while pensively thumbing through the book, I came across a statement that struck home, a quote from Robert Jensen: “The world has lost its story because it tries to live a story without a credible story teller.” Never is that more evident than at election time.          

The New Testament passage we heard this morning is known as  “the raising of the widows son”. And, as ever, we need first to look at the context. “No text without a context!” And the context here is very clear. It is that of John the Baptist asking of Jesus “Are you the one who is to come or do we look for another”. And Jesus’ answer to John’s messengers is  “Tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the poor are brought good news”.

There is also another context – that of Elijah and the widow’s son at Zarafath. It is an additional context because it is of the same subject matter and indeed some of the words used in Luke’s account that we look at today are precisely the same as the account of Elijah raising the widows son at Zarafath

So! On to the questions that immediately arise when these stories are read. The miracles in the Bible are where the rubber hits the road as far as belief and interpretation  are concerned.  To believe, or not to believe, that is the question as far as miracles are concerned.

And, for some reason or other, I am reminded of Alice in Wonderland where the Queen says “I am a hundred and one years old”.

“I can’t believe that “says Alice. 

“Can’t you?” says the Queen. “Well take a deep breath and try again”.

“I can’t” says Alice “You can’t believe impossible things.”

“Oh yes you can “ says the Queen. “When I was your age I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Needless to say Lewis Carroll wasn’t writing a fairy tale when he wrote “Alice in Wonderland”. He was raising  a real issue – an issue that we are confronted with today.

A miracle, dictionary defined is “a wonderful event for which there is no natural explanation, and for this reason is attributed to the supernatural”.  And we need to recognize that in the first century there was little understanding of the natural, and much was attributed to the supernatural. Storms were not seen in terms of highs and lows and moving fronts. They were seen in terms of angry Gods to whom words should be directed or sacrifices made – and I don’t mind admitting that a few years ago I was appalled when someone in Southern Cross asked us as a congregation to pray for rain. I spend a lot of time praying but praying for rain makes no sense to me! And nor does accepting the miracles at their face value, as actual and factual experiences. To do so means accepting the cosmology of the first century, of a guy in the sky who controls the levers of life. To go back to the cosmology and understanding of the first century is for me too big a price to pay, and flies in the face of everything that we today know and do.

 A few weeks ago I went to the funeral service of one of the most saintly people I have known – one who spent her life serving the needs of the poor, the indigenous community and those in prison. In the eulogy, the last moments of her life were recounted in terms of  “the room was filled with warmth, she smiled and she was gone”. Did a miracle occur and the room actually become warmer? I don’t think so. It was the way the person sitting with Bernadine experienced it. To spend time considering whether the room actually became warmer is to miss the point completely. It was as if the room was filled with warmth.  The words were used to make a point, a point about Bernadine and her life. I have no doubt, however, that some will see it in terms of a miracle. And more’s the pity, because Bernadine’s life was the miracle – the dictionary definition of miracle being, I remind you, “a thing of wonder”. Bernadine’s life was the miracle, not her death.          

The Christian faith is not about believing impossible stories.Fred Craddock puts it in an interesting way. The Bible is for us “like listening  through a key hole to an ancient conversation not intended for us …..There are many stories in the Bible. All of them are true and some of them actually happened.” Dominic Crossan puts it a little more bluntly  and points out  that in the gospels there are  not only the parables of Jesus but there are parables aboutJesus. Jesus told parables about life. His followers told parables about him. Crossan is quite strong on this because he, like many of us, has seen good people leave the Church because of the impossibility of believing  such things as the miracles. Crossan is passionate about it and says “We think that the ancients told dumb literal stories. Not quite! The ancients told smart metaphorical stories that we are dumb enough to take literally…… It’s the meaning that matters, dummies!” He also points out that the gospel writers consciously and deliberately took Old Testament stories and themes and created fresh stories in which Jesus seemed to fulfill the expectations.

The New Testament is hugely important – why else would we be considering it this morning – but we need to recognize that it was written in the first century.

The bible was written for people who believed that there was an almighty guy in the sky who controls everything and who would suspend the laws of nature on request. There are still people who believe that. I am not one of them. Our understanding of the world has changed since the year one and so has our understanding of the word within the scriptures.

When I was a young man , which is about seventy years ago, there was a movement which attempted to explain the miracles in terms of today’s understanding, for example, that in Elijah’s case his “breathing deeply on the child” was an early example of CPR. and that the widow’s son at Nain wasn’t clinically dead. Leslie Weatherhead, I remember, saw many of the miracles in terms of psychosomatic medicine. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Weatherhead and co. To see the miracles in his sense is neither necessary nor realistic. He seemed intent to impress that the bible is factually true in all things which, of course, is patently not the case. Anyone who believes today that the Garden of Eden story of creation is factually true is in cloud cuckoo land. It’s the meaning that matters, and so it is with the widow’s son at Zarafath and Nain. The bible has huge implications for the twenty first century but being a medical text book is not one of them.

We today desperately need a miracle worker, a credible story teller, and in Jesus of Nazareth  we see just that – thanks be to God who is not a guy in the sky pulling the levers of life but the energy of life pointing us to fullness of life. Diana Butler Bass, the main speaker at the coming Common Dreams conference does not particularly thrill me, but she certainly gets it right when she says that the Christian faith is not about an escalator rising to post mortem benefits but an arrow pointing to the future.

And so it is with the stories of the widow’s children at both Zarafath and Nain. The meaning is clear. Jesus brings new life to those who are to all intents and purposes dead. This is what our scripture this morning is about.

I don’t know about you, but I can smell the stench of death around us at this election time where politicians promise to put life into a dying economy and a decaying social system. The posturing of the politicians is blatantly childish and their primary aim is being elected. Why else would they promise huge sums of money as they cross the country? They bow the knee to a deity called the free market where the rich grow rich and the poor get poorer and the trickle down theory becomes a case of piddling on the poor. As Harvey Cox says “Of all the religions in the world, the market has become the most formidable because it is rarely recognized as a religion. ”  But such it is, and the Christian faith is not about market fundamentalism. It is about fullness of life. “I have come that you might have life and have it in all its fullness.” New life for those who to all intents and purposes are dead. As Irenaeus put it in the 2ndcentury “The glory of God is the human person fully alive”. A Christian is a human being striving to become more so. Such is not the case today and the stench of death is everywhere around us.

Who am I going to vote for in July?   My vote is going to Jesus of Nazareth! You didn’t know he was standing? Oh yes; he’s standing all right – behind and beside and in front of every politician, with policies and promises that go far beyond those of our politicians .

My disillusionment with the pollies and their policies is well known. Many of them are locked into the past. Many of them can’t see beyond the nose on their face. And all too few see the future except in terms of material welfare and the pursuit of pleasure.

How different is the policy of Jesus of Nazareth who points us to the future and fullness of life, a new way of life, which leaves the present day prophets for dead and breathes new life into the system, a system that I suspect is on the verge of collapse. We live today on borrowed time and borrowed money. We have feasted sumptuously at the table of life without concern for the future. We have partied long into the night. The dawn of a new day has arrived. The bill is about to be presented, and the credit card is overdrawn.

Such is the result of our political miracle workers. Thank God we have an alternative miracle worker, one who enables the blind to see, and the lame to walk, the lepers to be made clean, the deaf to hear, the dead raised to life, and good news being brought to the poor.

Thanks Nev.

His website is

https://nevwatson.com.au  Sermons for the 21stCentury.

 

Karen

The Art of Letting Go!

I was never a great manager. I can say that because I don’t manage anyone now. I used to be in charge of 7 people for a number of years at the Royal Perth Rehabilitation Hospital when I was the Coordinator for an Orthopaedic Outcome Project and Outpatient Clinic.  In charge is a very loose term, they were professionals in their own right,  physios who were senior but were happy to work in a research/clinical area rather than on a ward or in private practise.  I also had a super secretary who managed me more than I managed her.  In fact regardless of my poor managing skills the Clinic did thrive and the staff I had were amazing, innovative and responsible and caring to the patients.  Sometimes things happen in spite of the situation!

What I did learn through those years, when I would rather have been doing my own work than supervising others, is that empowering and trusting people is the name of the game.  Sure there is a framework to follow in any organisation, but within reason I should have shared my knowledge instead of wishing I could get on with my own work. To be a good manager, I realise now, you have to manage, not dictate or micromanage.  Rather by sharing, at all levels, all my staff could have had a say in how the Clinic worked and the outcomes we were achieving, giving them a real feeling they are part of the project or work situation, instead of just a cog in the wheel.  

I should have learnt to let go more, of the power of being in charge, the knowledge I had and my own set ways of doing things, and been open to other ideas, their ideas. 

But of course that is always pretty hard.  Sometimes we hoard the knowledge because it gives us a sense of who we are, a person who knows a lot about something, sometimes we hoard ideas because to let them go takes us into a scary unstable place.  Sometimes we don’t share because we don’t recognise the other person as a person capable of great things.  Sometimes we hold our power because we have nothing to replace it with. Without power and prestige and position we are worthless! Sometimes it’s as simple and as difficult as not wanting to change, to try something new.  This is how we have always done it, and no upstart graduate is going to tell me something else.

Ouch, I plead guilty to many of these.

I read a book recently by one of my favourite authors. Barbara Kingsolver (Poisonwood Bible, and Flight Behaviour fame).

In this book, letting go is explored in so many different ways, corresponding to much of the above. It is called “Unsheltered”, and I love the title because sometimes that’s what we are called to be, unsheltered, unprotected! 

Let me give the premise of the book..

The story is based around a house, falling down, in a place called Vineland, New Jersey.  There are two stories, told in alternating chapters, one set in the first half of the 19thcentury and one set in the 21stcentury.

In the first story we have Thatcher Greenwood, a science teacher who has come to Vineland with his wife to teach science at the local school.  He is a nature lover and admirer of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, only just published. Unfortunately Vineland seems to be a community set up with strict religious and social rules, mostly laid down by its founder Captain Charles Landis.  The town and most of its pupils are not interested in new ideas, ones that might rock their stable life and faith, and neither is the principle of the school at which Thatcher teaches.

In this story Thatcher Greenwood develops a close bond with his neighbour, Mary Treat, a real 19thcentury biologist, who corresponded with Darwin. She supports Thatcher in his efforts to educate his students about evolution, even when he is hounded by the principle and Captain Landis. 

“How are people so irrational?”, he asks.

“People may be persuaded of small things”, Mary said, “But most refuse to be moved on larger ones.  An earth millions of years old appalls them, when they have seen it otherwise….Presumptions of a lifetime are perilous things to overturn. Presumptions of many lifetimes, in this case”.

“Mr Darwin is blamed for the finding, and Dr. Gray for standing as its champion on our side of the Atlantic. And for bringing it to Vineland, I am threatened by my employer”, says Thatcher.

“And still your pupils depend on it, Thatcher. Their little families have come here looking for safety, but they will go on labouring under old authorities until their heaven collapses.  Your charge is to lead them out of doors. Teach them to see evidence for themselves and not to fear it.”

‘To stand in the clear light of day, you once said. Unsheltered”

I loved this part of the book, the clash of ideas, the courage needed to challenge and promote new ways of thinking.  How hard would it have been in that time to be a woman scientist or a science teacher, or Darwin for that matter. Or as the story progresses, a journalist who speaks the truth. Sometimes it’s hard even now. 

The other story is that of modern-day Vineland. A family has come to live in the run down house. A family a bit run down themselves.  Willa Knox, a freelance journalist and Iano, her Greek academic husband have chased the security of academic tenure for years, moving from place to place. Yet in the end it is a mirage, and they are left with Iano, her husband working in a small community University on very low pay.  They are financially stretched and feel abandoned by the system that is about to elect “the Bullhorn”, a man who says he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and people would still vote for him”. It seems all of America is falling apart, not just them. They are joined in the house by their daughter Tig, a free spirit who has returned from 2 years in Cuba and who becomes friendly with the ramshackle neighbours who are a family without parents.  In the house is also Iano’s father who is slowly dying, but causing a great stir with his racist cries in the process. 

If that is not enough, early on in their story, Helene, their son’s girlfriend commits suicide, leaving Zeke, a Harvard educated capitalist, with a small baby to care for.  He comes home with the baby, called Aldus, later Dusty, eventually leaving the care of him in the hands of his parents and Tig. while he goes back to Boston to continue his business interests. 

Yet they all amazingly try to carry on!

It is a very multilayered story, with the relationships between Willa and Iano, between them and Tig, and between Tig and Zach being front and centre, while the baby and the dying father just add to the chaos. Talk about being unsheltered! Talk about having to let go of things. But somehow it does actually work. 

The link between the two stories is the writings of Mary Treat, who Willa comes to know when she finds out about the history of her house, and the house next door where Mary lived.  In some ways Mary is a confidant not only of Thatcher but also of Willa, giving both strength and support in times of change. I must say I have fallen in love with Mary myself!

While the book is drawn out and some might say tedious, I liked it, for it deals with topics I find close to my heart.  The changing nature of Christianity in the 21stcentury, the issues that face us as a world, including environmental issues but also issues of politics and poverty. And about what a good life really is, is it one with security and a big house, or is it one with love and community? The book is about what we have to let go, as individuals and as a society and a world in order to change and move forward together. And how we do it. Perhaps with less fear and ego and more trust.

As Mary Treat says to Thatcher when they first meet. 

 “We are given to live in a remarkable time.  When the nuisance of old mythologies falls away from us, we may see with new eyes.”

“Without shelter we stand in daylight.” 

Karen 

Mary Oliver – Goodbye to a beautiful voice!

Mary Oliver, my beautiful companion, who opened my eyes to poetry, and wonder, and creation has died. My heart feels sad that I have to say goodbye to this wonderful woman, yet, I will in some ways never say goodbye. For the poetry she wrote, beautiful, glorious poetry, with a depth and perception that spoke to anyone who found it, lives on. In all the books that hold her poems, and in all the people who will continue to read and be inspired by them. I for one will never let the simple pleasure of a Mary Oliver poem be lost.

Here are just a couple of my favourites, but this is just the start!

“In Blackwater Woods”.

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
nameless now.

Every year
everything
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

We are letting go of Mary Oliver the person, but never Mary Oliver, the poet.

And this one, called “In the Storm”, speaks to me about what in the end life is about. I have used it before, but maybe we need to read it again and again to let it sink in. Kindness, a little bit of kindness, isn’t that what we all want for each other.  

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,
flew in,
snowflakes on their backs,

and settled
in a row
behind the ducks—
whose backs were also

covered with snow—
so close
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.
But, somehow,
they came back

and again the ducks,
like a feathered hedge,
let them
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

And finally, this one, which is long, but I love it because it talks about a God in all things, in creation, in the river, in the stones, in each one of us. Its called “At the River Clarion”.

I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water.

And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.

I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.

If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck.
He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke.
Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.

Imagine how the lily (who may also be a part of God) would sing to you if it could sing,
if you would pause to hear it.
And how are you so certain anyway that it doesn’t sing?

If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.
He’s the forest, He’s the desert.
He’s the ice caps, that are dying.
He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.

He’s van Gogh and Allen Ginsberg and Robert Motherwell.
He’s the many desperate hands, cleaning and preparing their weapons.
He’s every one of us, potentially.
The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician, the poet.
And if this is true, isn’t it something very important?

Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and each of you too, or at least
of his intention and his hope.
Which is a delight beyond measure.
I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea.
I only know that the river kept singing.
It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own constant joy
which was better by far than a lecture, which was comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.

(there is more..)

Karen

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