Saturday, 10 April 2021

A turning point

 We're still at the stage of shock/disbelief/awe/fear/amazement in our Easter readings from the gospels. Not surprising, and these stages of grief-turning-to-joy should not be underestimated. For the disciples, their world had been completely turned upside down. They had in some way come to accept the unsettling of their world in the three years they had been with Jesus, but this new reality of resurrection demanded a bigger leap, a wider imagination, an exploding and emerging shift to all they had known. 

I imagine it was all pretty untidy, this acceptance of resurrection, with some casualties- ideas, cherished notions, if not people- along the way. But it had a collective feel about it; the disciples, the women, the witnesses, could explore the implications, the Lord's directions, together.

That untidiness is hinted at in today's gospel; Thomas wants evidence- a reasonable request- before he believes any more than the has gains of the last three years. Doubt and evidence; vital components of a lively faith, otherwise we have uncomprehending, blind, unreasonable, -and ultimately eminently mockable- cultic 'faith'. 

Yet Thomas ultimately comes to the deepest acclamation of faith in the gospels- 'My Lord and my God!' So let's hear it for untidy, disputatious searchers for truth, and help them on their way; who knows, they might venture as far as exotic, unimagined India  (qua Thomas) in the reality of the good news? 

Saturday, 3 April 2021

The Old Words

 I have found the old words, the familiar words, helpful in keeping me on the path, relatively speaking, through Lent. 'We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, for by your holy cross, you have redeemed all the world'. 'Hearken, O Lord, and be merciful, to us who have sinned against you....'' Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.' And the rest. 

The old words have a patina on them through constant and cherished repetition. They have proved strong and durable, and have put God back where he belongs, as the eternal subject and centre. I have retreated to my proper place, not the centre of my universe, but frail, sinful, in need of grace. 

Easter Day finds me in that same world, but where old words 'Christ is risen- He is risen indeed!' make it possible to continue, with hope that the little mortal wounds we suffer, or inflict, through life, are provisional. The parts of me which have died or have inflicted death on others, can have a resurrection, so that I and others- indeed all creation- can be whole. Christ comes walking towards us out of the future, bringing his kingdom of love, peace, joy justice, and all that is good and lovely. The old words are shot thorough with life, with gold; they touch me and resurrect even me.   

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Rules and grace

 Last week I wrote of grace. This week I'm firmly back in the world of rules; I write to a prisoner on death row in the US, and twice recently my letters have been returned since the envelopes were non-standard. The first time I sent the letter in an envelope of the palest shade of grey, not knowing that they should be white. Letter returned to me by the authorities, undelivered to its recipient. So I put it in a white envelope, and sent it off. Letter returned, ditto. The interior of the envelope was blue, printed thus presumably to prevent prying eyes seeing the envelope's contents. But still not good enough; the search is now on for that rare beast, a white envelope with a white interior- and it ain't easy to find. 

Ah yes, rules. If only we knew them all, could keep them all. If only I was aware of the rules, handed down since childhood, that govern my life- even better, aware of the rules that govern yours, so that I don't cross them. Put like this, together with the variable rules of every society, written and unwritten, changing and unchanging, petty-fogging and common-sensical, public and private, new and old, there must be an infinite number. No wonder we are confused, transgressing at every turn, 'in thought, word and deed, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.'

All of which is somehow transcended for those in the faith by grace, which in a world of infinite rules, allows me to move forward, The promise is that I shall not be trapped in failure to keep the rules, anxiety that I have transgressed, and thus immobilised; but experience the green pastures, the goodness and expansiveness of salvation, of grace, which put rules into a perspective which acknowledges their place, but allows me to see the shocking truth that grace is sovereign. This coming week exemplifies the clash of rules and grace- in spite of the insistent and deathly voice of rules, grace overcomes.  

Sunday, 21 March 2021

I'm ahead of you

 I'm conscious of the shortcuts I take in my relationships. I'm interested in what job you have, so that I can judge your economic status, which in my foolishness I assume to be related to your education and intelligence. Armed with this, I think I know how to come on to you. In the end it's 'you' servicing my needs. 

There is an alternative, of course. I could just listen and let you unfold yourself. I could give you wholehearted attention, and pick up the signals about who you are, and not what you are. But I guess so much of modern life is about 'my time is precious, and I have to make a quick decision about you- are you worth investing my time in?' 

I don't see that in Jesus. I see him taking in, drinking in, the whole person. 'What would you like me to do?' Such a simple question, but it gets to the heart of the matter. No assumptions, just getting the person in front of him, who has his whole attention, to express their deepest self. 

I could learn from that- if I had the time. .    

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Grace is where we find it

 I have long maintained to friends and mentors that I find my theology not in the myriad books which formally fall into that category, but in the novels and stories I read. Truth to tell, it's often a defence against doing something I find difficult; and it's an aspiration often, rather than a reality. But in my Book Club meeting last week, theology snuck up on me out of nowhere. 

Towards the end of the two hours' discussion we were devoting to a story of Kamila Shamsie, the word 'atonement' popped up. I've been grappling with it since then, praying about that word, seeking truth in it. A memory from way back that it was William Tindale sometime in the early 16th century, as he translated the Bible into English, who gave the word its theological slant- a shade of meaning it had not carried before. Now, five hundred years later, I cannot see it in any other way than that; and I struggled to see Shamsie's characters  in any atonement light. 

My thoughts and prayers since the Book Club meeting have added to my Lenten journey, as I know how from from 'at one' with God I have been, how little merged into the likeness of Christ, how costive my love of God and neighbour. 

Fortunately, there are still weeks to run in this Lenten season; time to make amends, time for grace to operate, time for atonement to become something more real in me.       

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Blood Donor

 I gave blood earlier this week. Not that I missed it afterwards; life continued as normal. 'This gives me a free-pass on housework for the next six months, doesn't it?' I said to the Donor Carer who was attending to me. She was not sympathetic, but it was worth a try. 

The actual donation took about eight minutes; the health checks, identity checks, waiting, etc took up the rest of the hour. I wish I'd signed on to donating earlier- I was in my forties when I began, and want to get to fifty donations (just two needed to reach this point) before I think I may retire; age brings complications. 

For those within the faith, it's not so big a leap of the imagination to go from blood to the wine in the chalice at Holy Communion. The wine is meant to bring to mind the blood of Christ, shed on the cross. A sip of the wine is life-giving to me, at the cost of the life draining from the crucified Christ.

I've booked my next blood donation appointment for about twelve weeks' time. I should reach my fifty donations by the end of the year, all things being equal. I only wish that there was the same certainty about holy communion. These covid-months are the longest time I have not taken the life-giving elements. I feel the life draining out of me. But today a local church where I help has decided to open for Easter. A booking, as it were, for a transfusion of life. 

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Ice cream Lent

 If memory serves, there was a court case some years ago where a small artisanal ice-cream maker wanted the label 'ice cream' to refer only to products such as his, which contain cream, and little else. The products made by the big food corporations should, as they were more properly whipped, frozen and flavoured margarine, be called something different.. 

Naturally, he lost. Bur maybe he had a case. A reminder of the real thing, not something ersatz. I've never quite looked at the stuff I bring out of the freezer to serve with apple crumble without having a jaundiced eye as to what I'm eating since that time. Frozen margarine lacks any sort of appeal. 

And so to Lent. Like Advent, it's a time we are called back to the real, to forsaking the ersatz. Instead of the expectation of Advent, the note here in Lent is one of lament. Not a frame of mind and heart we indulge in very often, but in this covid-bound time, one we could do well to think of all that we have lost, all that could be repented, all that could change for the better. 

Could be appealing. As well as being personally called back to the rich and creamy fundamentals of the faith, it could lead us into visions which properly would find their voice in 'Thy kingdom come.' All underpinned by the age-old invitation 'Taste and see that the Lord is good'.