The contemporary mystic Andrew Harvey once wrote that ‘the things that ignore us save us in the end. Their presence awakens silence in us.’ I have been pondering this week whether this is what all wild places have in common, whether they be the Australian outback, other deserts, mountain places or wilderness forest. Regardless of the particularity of their wildness, wild places ignore us – in a healthy and health-giving way. In a wild place we cease, as human creations, to be at the centre of our own worldview and become aware of all that is beyond us. As the American Presbyterian theologian Belden C. Lane expresses it in his great work “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: exploring desert and mountain spirituality”: 'There is an unaccountable solace that fierce landscapes offer to the soul. They heal, as well as mirror, the brokenness we find within.' When we find ourselves bereft of human company and resources, then we find ourselves in a place to let go of the demands of ego, the trivialities of our everyday lives, and to receive something of the incalculable and transforming presence of God...
Listening to one or two people speak during last weekend’s Synod events, I was struck again by the tricky challenges of how we use both Scripture and history to illuminate our faith and lives. For both Scripture and history can be sources and mediums of Christian assurance and hope. Yet they can also be means of unhealthy myth-making and even misdirection. In secular politics, we frequently experience the same thing: when, for example, this or that dictator is ssid to be ‘just like Hitler’, or when events are said to be repeating themselves. There are sometimes varying degrees of truth in such statements. However, the reality is that noone is ever ‘just like’ someone else, never mind like Hitler. Events do not simply repeat themselves. Even Herod, in our Gospel reading, realised that: hence his perplexity about who Jesus was. Whether we use Scripture and/or historical allusions, we have to be discerning and judicious. There is much to be drawn for example from allusions, similarities, and questions, which arise from our knowledge of the early Church and the European Reformations. That is why we study them, and why, in teaching them, I actively encourage such reflection. For, in that sense, though different, like Scripture, history is not a mere record of what has been. It is an invitation to understanding ourselves, our world, and God, afresh. It is about dynamic encounter. As with some mentioned in our Gospel reading today, is inevitable that some will seek to re-run the past or think it is simply coming alive again. Yet drawing straight lines from one era to another is not only intellectually problematic but spiritually dangerous. Christians, for example, will never, ever, quite live again in the early Church or Reformation, or any other era. Our contexts and horizons will always be significantly different, not least because we are products of that history not mere participants in its re-running. All of which brings us to the challenges and wisdom of Haggai…
If you were only allowed one book from the Hebrew Scriptures, which would you choose? It would be a tough selection, wouldn’t it? At the risk of being called a Marcionite, there are a few books I might dispense with quite cheerfully: not least Leviticus (that continuing bane of some people’s lives) and also Numbers, and perhaps Ezra and Nehemiah. Personally, I’d also be happy to see quite a few other passages put to one side, including the invasion of the land by Joshua. However it would be hard to choose just one book to keep. For Isaiah would be high on my list, together with Genesis and the Psalms, Lamentations and some of the other prophets. In the final analysis however I’d pick Exodus: a book which begins with abject slavery and ends in the glorious presence of God. Along the way, we see all kinds of adventures, highs and lows, encounters and transformations, betrayals and revelations, miracles and mercies: all ending in today’s vision of clouds and glory. Such a core story which encompasses so much about living faith! What a perfect prelude today to this Sunday’s feast of the Transfiguration….
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?...
by Jon Inkpin, for Pentecost 11A, Sunday 24 August 2014
Most of have probably heard of Mahatma Gandhi. What however does ‘Mahatma’ mean? It was not the real name of the remarkable 20th century Indian leader called Gandhi. His name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The honorary name Mahatma was given to him because of his amazing character. Indeed, it was given to him when he was a lawyer in South Africa, especially for his deep concern and work for the poor. For the name Mahatma comes from a Sanskrit word which means ‘high (or great) soul’. In Christian terms, we might say ‘saint’, or, simply, one who is ‘great hearted’.
Whom would you name Mahatma today?
Whom do you see as ‘great hearted’?...