|Pen and Ink Reflections||
The clergy of the Uniting Church of Australia are obliged to agree that they will baptise new members in ‘the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. It is one of really only a handful of non-negotiables. So, why? What does this mean? And what matters about this particular attempt at describing God?...
Today’s Gospel story is one which resonates powerfully with me. For I had lower back problems for many years, and I still vividly remember my back going into total spasm as I once tried to change trains at Strathfield station. I was bent double and simply could not move, despite the help of others. It was a key moment in which I began to realise that my life, and especially my relationship to my body, had to change. I had to start listening to my body, in which so many emotions, not least denied gender and sexual emotions, were trapped. Not simply physically, but in other ways, I had to learn to bend and unbend, more fully to know and flow into my life and spirit. Now, of course, not all our ailments and physical challenges have obvious spiritual connections. However many, in my experience, do, and this is certainly part of what the Gospel writer is trying to say to us in our story today. For whilst we may speculate on the likely form of physical arthritis with which the woman may have been afflicted, Luke is calling us to recognise our spiritual arthritis and its potential for transformation in God. At this time, in the life of this community, and the wider Church and world, it is perhaps well worth reflecting upon. Indeed, as we continue to ponder our own mission calling together, it is good to ask what bending and unbending might represent for us, not least in our prayer and worship life. For whilst it might be tempting to consider today’s Gospel story in relation to many whose physical bodies and lives need unbending, I believe that the great mystic Evelyn Underhill had it right when she said:
We mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, and to Do… forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by, and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be.
Prayer and worship, she, and I, would propose, are about helping us with that fundamental verb: bending and unbending our lives and bodies, our whole selves, be-ing, in relationship to the Spirit of all…
One of my favourite contemporary spiritual songs is that which we heard before the beginning of our worship today – ‘I Am Mountain’ by Gungor (see YouTube link above). The lyrics are evocative of both rich ancient understandings and the best insights of modern life and science. They speak of profound presence, of the immanence and transcendence of the divine. They direct us to the heart of the life-giving spirituality of this Season of Creation. For, in Gungor's words, and ancient Christian orthodoxy proclaims, ‘there’s glory’ (‘beauty’ and ‘mystery’) in the dirt.’ As Christian, and other mystics, have affirmed, there’s ‘a universe within the sand, eternity within’ a human being. Often, we may indeed feel ourselves to be ‘wandering in skin and soul/ Searching, longing for a home’. Yet in truth, in memorable phrases, we are invited to see ourselves as:
Momentary carbon stories
From the ashes
Filled with holy ghost
In the face of the climate emergency, we are also called, by ‘the light’, to ‘fight, fight for our lives’ - as we have also explored, particularly in last week’s reflections and discussions. However, above all, we are encouraged to acknowledge more deeply the wonder of the divine existence we share. For we are intimately related to our extraordinary world. All metaphors, as Gungor says, then begin to break down in the face of this astounding mystery and reality, as:
Life is here now
Breathe it all in
Let it all go
You are earth and wind…
When I was a child I was a member of the Tufty Club. Quite possibly I still am. I’m not sure the membership ever really lapses. Certainly almost every child of my generation in the UK was encouraged to be a member. For Tufty (or Tufty Fluffytail to give him his full name) was the brainchild of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. He was, and still is, a squirrel created to tell stories and messages and be the emblem for the road safety of children. So all kinds of merchandise has been produced around Tufty, including films, games, and badges. At one stage there were indeed as many as 24 500 registered Tufty Clubs in the UK, mostly based in schools. All of which was great fun as well as learning for children, not least red-headed children like me who loved Tufty’s life, colour and native character. Sadly, the native European red squirrel is today under serious threat of extinction in the UK, due to the advance of the larger, aggressive, North American grey squirrels and the continuing loss o habitats. Yet Tufty’s message – to ‘stop, look and listen’ – lives us on today. For it is good advice not only for children and road safety, but also for all our lives and spiritual journeys. It is indeed close to the heart of today’s Gospel story and Jesus’ own words for Martha and Mary…
Mothers Day – what do we make of it? In some ways is a strange, and very modern, development. Indeed, if we ever needed an example of how culture shapes an idea in different ways, then Mothers Day is it. Originally it was a revolutionary rallying call to mothers to take action to save their children and stop war. Yet today it is a much tamer and commercialised affair: a largely domesticated call to do something for mothers, however small. Instead of mothers themselves organising campaigns for peace and justice, as they did when it began, Mothers Day today is mainly an opportunity for mothers to be pampered by their nearest and dearest, at least for one day. So where does God’s love fit in all of that? Is there anything Christian faith might have to say to affirm, deepen, and expand our meaning of Mothers Day? Well, yes: especially on this particular Mothers Day, which is also the feast day of the medieval saint Mother Julian of Norwich, and the first day of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Both of those events help us see and use Mothers Day more fully, as an opportunity to share the mothering love of God more abundantly: not only by rightly valuing that love in our own mothers, but by renewing that love in our own selves, and by extending that love to others, different to us and further afield…