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Remember that you are dust

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A little pre-Lent ramble

Today’s reading at the morning Eucharist was Mark 7.1-13.

I can’t think of an instance in the gospels when the Pharisees would have come away from a conversation with Jesus thinking, ‘That went well, I think we really convinced him this time.’  And they try so hard, so very hard, to get it right, and they always miss what’s right in front of them.

Today, this reading comes across not as a last Alleluia before the fast begins, but perhaps more as a comment on Lent itself and how we keep it.  It reminds us that the whole point of the law when it was given was to give another way, alongside all the many other gifts and self-revelations of God through the centuries, for us to ‘learn to be God’s people once again.’

It invites us to think about how whatever Lenten discipline we’ve chosen to undertake is going to help us draw closer to God – and warns us against anything that might inadvertently become an end in itself and so drive a wedge between us and God.

It took the ancient Israelites 40 years – a whole lifetime – to learn to be God’s people, and they still kept getting it wrong, just as we do. The law that was given to them during this time at Sinai was supposed to help, but in every generation since, God’s people have done as the gospel’s Pharisees tend to do, and made the law into a thing in itself, rather than as a way of learning to be People of God. All that time in the wilderness, trying to work out how to do it right, and all along, through the visceral and dramatic pillars of fire and cloud, and through the daily gift of manna from heaven, God was right there with them, inviting his beloved children to trust him, to draw up a chair at his table, sit and eat.

The poor Pharisees in the gospel reading are in a similar boat. They try so hard to get it right, and all the time they’re missing what’s right in front of them: Jesus’ friends, with their unwashed hands, are drawing up a chair every day and sitting down to eat with God.  I pray that when the last judgement comes, all who tried so hard, yet missed the point, will be confronted with the raw love and generosity and hospitality of God that says, ‘Sit, and eat’, and finally reply, ‘Thank you, I’d love to’.

This Lent, I pray that whatever we ‘do’ may be a way to draw closer, to become God’s people once again, whether that process takes 40 days or 40 years. I pray that it will be a time when we can hear God’s invitation and respond by drawing our chair closer – in worship, work, leisure, and rest – and enjoy table fellowship with our Lord.

A poem about Lent

Trying to get myself in the right mindset (heartset, soulset etc) for Lent.

These forty days of prayer and discipline
are given for us to slowly grow in grace
and learn to be your people once again,
to find our truest home in your embrace.
In pilgrimage, through hours and days and weeks
of changing who we are and what we do,
the human heart may find that which it seeks:
ourselves, once restless, find their rest in you,
our mother hen, whose chicks at last come home
to find the safest place where they may cling;
we need not face the wilderness alone,
but nestle in shadow of your wing.
Oh, forty days of learning how to be
what you have promised us eternally.

The Wisdom of Daniel: Sacraments

I was playing over in my mind and reflecting again what my son said the other day about sacraments.
He was painting an abstract/symbolic picture of ‘a battle between warm and cold’. He’s always been very sensory, very huggy, and treats the warmth left behind by another person when they get up out of a sofa or out of bed as something to be treasured, almost revered, because for him, the person has left something of themselves there, of which warmth is the sign.
Anyway, he was painting his picture, and started to talk about how I was warm, and I pointed out that my hands and feet are often quite cold, but that I was warm inside.
He then said, ‘Yes, like a sacrament.’
We unpacked this a bit, and what he meant was that there is an inner warmth in a person you love and who loves you that is somewhere between spiritual and emotional, and that our outer bodily warmth is a sign of that, but not the thing itself.  I said to him that that was pretty profound stuff.  He said to me, ‘I didn’t make it up, you told me about it last year when I was doing communion preparation.’ As it happens, I do remember telling them about the classic definition of a sacrament as ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace’ but I don’t remember applying it to people.
He went on to talk about how this works in holy communion:
‘When you drink the wine, and it feels warm when you swallow it, that’s the outward bit of the sacrament, and the inward bit is the warmth of love. That’s why you’re like a sacrament.’ 

He’s always felt very strongly that unless he’s had wine as well as a wafer, he hasn’t really taken communion properly, and now I know why – it seems from this conversation that, while for many of us, the idea of bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ can be almost ‘abstracted’ from the physical elements, for my son, in his multisensory spiritual world, it is the warmth of the wine, rather than the fact that it is red, or simply the idea of it, that enables it to function sacramentally.
He’s done this before, I now remember. Once when he was much younger, maybe four or five, he came running in from the garden with a big juicy strawberry in his little hand. He held it out to me, eyes like saucers, and said, ‘Mummy, I thought of you as I picked it. Eat it, mummy, can you taste the love?’
I realise that my son is unusually articulate about this kind of thing, but I’m also pretty confident that his experience is not unique. Time and time again in engaging with children (often much younger than my son) I am both inspired and challenged by the way that they can effortlessly and holistically engage mind, body and spirit in the processing of experience, and playfully hold together material and spiritual and emotional reality in a way that many adults find so hard.
Undoubtedly, children can do theology. To be honest, if often feels as if children are natural theologians, and their experience of church can either nurture that innate ability to experience the divine, or crush it.  Lord, let my kids always be in a church that honours what they bring, that welcomes them to participate fully, and that engages with the senses as well as with the brain.

Transfiguration doodle

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Getting ahead of myself a bit – here is a doodle for Sunday’s gospel, the Transfiguration.