|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, once said that “somewhere we know that without silence, words lose their meaning”. When there is silence, words also become infinitely more powerful. An enfleshed Word, like an infant Jesus – remembering that the word ‘infant’ comes from the Greek for ‘not speaking’ – carries most meaning of all; ‘the Word without a word’ as T.S Eliot expressed it in his poem Ash Wednesday...
If you have ever been to St Luke’s church in Toowoomba, you will know it has wonderful stained glass windows. These include, above the high altar, a replica of the famous medieval ‘Blue Virgin’ window from Chartres cathedral. Another outstanding feature, at the west end, above the baptistery, is a beautiful modern Australian stained glass window; which, almost like an Aboriginal dot painting, plots and celebrates so many aspects of Creation. There are several other windows too which command attention, including one with St Peter and girls from The Glennie School; a rendering of the meeting of Mary Magdalene with Jesus at the Resurrection; and a moving portrait (in the Warriors Chapel) of a dying soldier reaching out and touching the crucified Christ. All speak powerfully of Christian faith, and are, as it were, the Gospel in glass.. Over the years I ministered there however, the window I was surprisingly increasingly drawn to was one of those which are easily passed over: namely a stained glass window representing the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. As time went on, I would indeed particularly point this out to those who came for baptisms. For the message of that window goes to the heart of the good news – the Gospel – we all need to hear today: the good news which lies behind Jesus’ responses to the great human temptations in our Gospel reading today. To flourish beyond such temptations, we, like Jesus at his baptism, need to hear, for ourselves, the words of God ‘You are my Beloved, in you I am well pleased’…
At times Jesus must have felt, as perhaps sometimes we feel, that he could not win. Had he followed the ascetic practices of John the Baptist he would have been condemned as demon possessed. As it is, his critics are quick to judge his joyous engagement with life as a failure of self control and an indicator of immorality. He compares the society around him with a bunch of quarrelsome children, who are refusing to enter into the dances and activities associated with wedding and funeral feasts - in other words they are refusing the very stuff of life. When we refuse to engage with the stuff of life, in all its joy and terror, we repress our emotions and become hard of heart. Then we can indeed become quarrelsome and irritable, concentrating on minor details and neglecting the big picture. Jesus is saddened when this happens, because we miss out on so much. We also end up weighed down with burdens too heavy to carry, that are of our own making, just as the Pharisees did in Jesus own day.
So what is to be done? Firstly we need to look to Jesus, who as the incarnation of God was not afraid to experience the full range of our human emotions of joy, anger, fear and grief. He lived passionately out of the very height and depth of human feeling. Now that can be pretty confronting for ourselves and sometimes others. As most of you know Jo and I have recently become grandparents. This week our daughter has been facing the challenges of an infant living into the fullness of their human emotions, expressing himself in anger and crying as well as beginning to reward her efforts with first smiles. It is quite a challenge for both of them. Yet infants as Jesus said, do indeed sometimes understand things better than adults...