|Pen and Ink Reflections||
When my wife was ordained deacon in the Anglican Church, she was heavily pregnant with our twin daughters. ‘I am a holy trinity’, she famously declared in a subsequent homily. Of course, this was partly a joke, not a serious attempt to restate classic doctrine. Yet she was making vital points about the need to locate the great ecumenical doctrine of the Holy Trinity in life and experience, as well as in prayerful and intellectual rigour. We would certainly not want to over-exalt a female pregnant trinity, especially when its members are manifestly not equal or in reciprocity. However my wife had a case, I think, in drawing attention to deep aspects of mutuality, indwelling, and love. Not least she was highlighting how God as Holy Trinity is profoundly relational and embodied. For, whilst God in essence is transcendent, God’s energies are found dynamically in all aspects of our lives and world. In this sense. God in Holy Trinity is not only found in our variegated gendered experiences. God in Holy Trinity is always pregnant with possibilities of which we can but yet hardly dream. As Matthew 28.16-20 highlights, this is not only a declaration of profound loving mutuality. It is also an invitation to travel on to further transformation in the presence of a mystery which calls us into deeper being and becoming...
Three things immediately struck me in recently moving back to work again in the centre of Sydney. Firstly, so many of the high buildings had either grown even higher or had multiplied in number. Secondly, particularly in the adjacent areas north and west of Pitt Street Uniting Church, different Asian shops and cultures continue to grow in number. An official Koreatown now sits close to Chinatown, and other presences, including Malaysian, and particularly Thai, are not far behind. Thirdly, in the suburb where I live, each park has an acknowledgement of country, including the prominent words Budyeri gamarruwa – ‘welcome’ in Gadigal language. Each of these things are redolent to me of both the challenges, and the promise, of Pentecost today. For if we are to receive the Spirit of God more fully - replacing hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, and becoming one body in this land - these are part of the journey we make…
(Jo) What an abundance of rich spiritual images we have in our liturgy today – all trying to capture just a hint of the richness of the Holy Spirit. I wonder which speaks most vividly to you – is it the fire, the wind, the breath, the dove, the tongues, the living bones? Or is it the breathing, the blowing, the swirling, the burning, the dancing, the prophesying? For somehow nouns are never enough for the Spirit – we need the verbs, the present participles that suggest movement, motion, dynamism. One thing is certain, without the Spirit, we as individuals and the church would be stuck – it is the Spirit that moves through our ‘stuckness’ and constantly invites us to the new.
We’re going to explore just a few of the pictures of the Spirit, acknowledging that no one image can ever come close to the fullness of this animating force of the divine. So, where to begin Penny?...
One of the most memorable voices of my English schooldays was that of the great cricket commentator John Arlott. He reported on many things, and was also a poet, wine-connoisseur, hymn-writer, part time politician, anti-apartheid spokesperson and renowned host of dinner parties. His distinctive radio tones and brilliant turns of phrase illuminated English summers and some other special occasions, notably the great Centenary Test Match in Melbourne in 1977. Thousands of miles away I remember being curled up through the night listening under the covers to John’s words. His descriptions were typically unforgettable: such as that of the scene of Dennis Lillee’s destruction of the English first innings, where, he said, even the ‘seagulls were standing in line like vultures’, and also Derek Randall’s heroic second innings fightback – an innings as inimitable as John’s own expressions. Gordon Greenidge, the great West Indian batsman, even named him ‘the Shakespeare of commentators.’ Above all, however, I will always cherish John Arlott’s vigorous standing up for our common humanity, not least over apartheid. He had learned to move on from his English colonial upbringing from Indian cricketers, not least the wonderful Vijay Merchant. Famously then, he was involved at the forefront of cricket’s anti-apartheid struggles. Indeed, as early as 1948, visiting South Africa, he refused to fill in the section marked ‘race’ on the departure form, except to put the word ‘human’. ‘What do you mean?’, said an angry immigration officer aggressively. ‘I am a member of the human race’ came back the reply. Eventually he was just told to ‘get out’. How I wonder would John Arlott fare today with resurgent racism, nationalism, and the exclusivism of so many immigration policies? What price human unity today? What, in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, does faith have to contribute?...
What is your ‘good news’? One of the theological college principals I used to work with would occasionally ask this of students. If you had to put the good news of your Christian faith in a short phrase, he would say, what would it be? Now he was certainly not trying to dumb down faith, under the pressures of modern media attention spans and ‘church growth’ gurus. That, to be honest, would hardly have worked! Our theological college was, after all, the child of two theological traditions - one of them radically incarnationalist and the other powerfully modernist – both of which had rattled the cages of conservative and complacent faith in the past. No, he was certainly not attempting to avoid deep and complex questions and intelligent reflection. He was just trying to encourage us to affirm what we could affirm and to be able to share that clearly with others. For, let’s be honest, much theology and Christian communication can be pretty difficult to grasp, can’t it? Nor is it just ‘traditional’ faith communication. Sometimes, to be quite frank, so-called ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ theology is also not very clear about ‘good news’. It can tell us a great deal about questions and debates, and help us move on from much that is death-dealing. Yet it can sometimes be less helpful in affirming what, in Jesus and Christian Faith, is truly life-giving. So, what is our ‘good news’ today?...
I’ve always loved words and the play of words – puns and shades of meaning, not always obvious in translation. All translations of the cluster of texts we call the Bible are exactly that – translations. As such they are always inadequate to some extent. And even if we read the original language, we read it with our own twenty-first eyes, and through numerous other lenses of gender, ethnicity, and other particularity. Hence, we need to be on the alert for nuances that are sometimes missed.
There is a little word play happening in today’s Gospel text – it’s around the word meno, which the writer of John uses a great deal, because of its fluidity of meaning. “Live on in me as I live on in you” Jesus says in our version. The older translations read ‘abide in me as I abide in you’ and that’s the translation offered in the passage we heard from 1 John. Now, abide and abode are not words we use much these days, which is no doubt why the Inclusive Bible has made the change to the Gospel passage that it has. But there are some shades of meaning that enrich our understanding here. That original word meno means many things - to stay, to rest, to dwell, to remain (and yes, with that sense of continuity) to live on. It can mean to stay strong in ones resolve. But we need the underpinning of the dwelling words as well. As a noun, menai, it means a dwelling place, an abode, a lodging – a place indeed, somewhere to live, to have life as well as furniture! When the disciples early in John’s gospel ask Jesus ‘where are you staying?’, it’s the same word – and not used idly. Eventually they will come to understand that Jesus stays, remains, dwells, lives on - in God – and we do too if we remain part of the vine – because as Jesus will eventually say in John 17, ‘in my Abba’s house are many dwelling places’ – same word.
So where are we going to live in every sense? Well one metaphoric answer that John’s Jesus gives is ‘in the vine’. It’s a metaphor that tells us something vital about our relationship with God - that it is a relationship of mutuality. We need God, but - and this is the bit we often forget - God also in some mysterious ways needs us to bear fruit. So, let’s think a little about vines...