Exploring ways into the tearing of hearts and suffering of our lives and world...
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 you step out of your door in the morning, do you feel that you are stepping into a world of wonder in which you are intimately connected? Or, are you simply stepping into mere location? Is it just dead space which you are crossing so that you can get to where you need to go? Or, do you believe you are walking into a living universe? Those are questions which the great spiritual writer John O’Donohue used to ask and they lie right at the heart of the Season of Creation we have just begun this month. For it matters vitally how we view the world and where we locate God in relation to it. So much of our politics, our business and trade activities, and our lifestyles, are affected. If we believe that matter, material existence, doesn’t really matter to God, then we will end up acting in problematic ways. Or, as John O’Donohue used to say, if we do believe that when we step out we are walking into a living universe, then our walk ‘becomes a different thing’. So let us explore some of the theological paths which can underpin more loving and sustainable ways of living together on the Earth…
On this day we gather to remember the suffering of Christ, and those who. like Christ, have suffered: often needlessly, seemingly pointlessly. We will reflect upon seven circles of suffering: in our own person, in our family, in our close relationships, in our wider community, in our nation, in our world and in our earth. We light the Christ candle and seven candles
to bring to mind those seven areas where pain is often experienced. As we reflect more deeply on each one its candle will be extinguished but the Christ candle will continue.
When I was young, parts of the country in which I grew up literally blew away. Living in Lincolnshire, one of England’s greatest agricultural counties, I could see this whenever I traveled. For I grew up as a child at the time of the greatest destruction of England’s hedgerows, many of them very ancient. Indeed, hedgerows are, as the Campaign to Protect Rural England has put it, ‘the most widespread semi-natural habitat in England’, and, more poetically, ‘the vital stitching point in the patchwork quilt of the English countryside’.1 They not only provide character, but essential life to all kinds of creatures, and help protect the soil itself without which there can be no sustainable farming yields. As a child however, I would see such features regularly ripped away, and a vast desert of landscape created, with vital topsoil whirling up in dust storms and carried away. Such soil frequently blinded us, reflecting the blinkered industrialised agricultural thinking which had produced it. It was an early lesson to me of how if we mistreat the land out of which we come and are fed, we also destroy ourselves. How then are we to live, without seeking the forgiveness of the land itself, and renewing creation together?...
If the Feast of the Epiphany tells us anything, it is that truly holy gifts come from surprising places. Why else would the bearers of gold, frankincense and myrrh not only be Gentiles – unclean foreigners, from other nations – but also Magi to boot? Recent Christmas tradition has called them the Wise Men, or the Three Kings, but there is nothing in the text to say that they were kings, or only male, or only three of them, or even ‘wise’ in typical Jewish understanding. In fact the word Magi may indicate the word ‘magician’, as used, disapprovingly, elsewhere in the New Testament. So we have a story today where the main bearers of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and its symbols, are potentially very dodgy outsiders indeed. Of course this is highly intentional. For, from the very start, in its genealogy of Jesus, Matthew’s Gospel is keen to tell us that God’s revelation, and salvation, involves surprising people and surprising divine moves. So it was then and remains now, if our eyes, ears and hearts are open. When I begin by saying my address this morning is inspired by a funeral I attended this week, you may therefore recognise something of that same surprising movement of our surprising God…
Feel the breath of God move softly
gentle mists across the skin;
Earth is breathing God’s own spirit,
life renewed from deep within.
Sing a song of living waters,
pulsing through the veins of earth.
These words, from a hymn by the eco-theologian Norm Habel remind us what we all know; that water, especially river water, is sacred; essential to life; the very stuff of which we are made. Our own bodies are largely made up of water as indeed are so many of the creatures on our planet earth. From this vital element and many others, God is continually creating, every day new species, new variants. As Norm Habel has written elsewhere,
“One of the ways that we know God keeps creating you and me and all forms of life is by using the water in rivers. The flowing water in the river we see is indeed the water of life we need to survive. But it is also the very stuff God uses to create in the cycle of creation. The same waters of the Flood and the Ice Age are the very waters God uses to give us life, to create. There is a finite amount of H2O on Earth, whether it is in the form of water, ice or moisture. And the fragments of H20, the little bits of water, are re-cycled endlessly. God keeps creating and sustaining life with the same water age after age and generation after generation. Water is the very essence of the cycle of creation."...
by Jon Inkpin, for Land Sunday, 14 September 2014
I wonder if you know Peter Sartsedt’s song ‘Where Do You Go To My Lovely?’ Written and released in 1969, it is about a fictional girl called Marie-Claire who becomes a member of the ‘jet set’, the fashionable celebrities of the late 1960s. Her life is full of show and excitement. Underneath however there is another reality. For her story is told from the point of view of a childhood friend who, after recounting all the amazing places Marie-Claire goes to, asks: ‘but where do you go to my lovely, when you’re asleep in your bed? Tell me the thoughts that surround you.’ Then, in the last verse of the song, the secret is revealed. Marie-Claire comes from poverty, ‘from the backstreets of Naples’ and her current life is both a welcome release and a desperate escape from that reality, full of continued scars and regret. For what we are, as people, is shaped by the realities of the places in which we are formed and raised. Only when we come to terms with those realities, their promise and their pain, are we truly set free. This is at the heart of today’s readings as we reflect upon God in the Land. For where do you go to, where do I go to, where do we go to, when we are asleep in our beds? What has our experience of land, of particular places, done for, and to, us? How does land and place shape our lives today?...