|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Recently I was given a wonderful handmade doorstop. It was a gift from the main organiser of an event I spoke at in the Uniting Church’s Pilgrim College in Melbourne (see my address here and Talitha's own explanation here). We were marking the landmark first Australian university unit in Queer Theology, before the intensive which Penny and I were about to teach. As such, the doorstop was one fitting symbol of such developments, keeping open the possibilities of hearing the voice of God in contemporary culture, particularly in queer lives and spiritual experience, and enabling some of our collective old pain and exhaustions to leave and new joys and challenges to enter. It is however but one doorstop among many created by my colleague during the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne. For too many doors were closed at that time. Then and still now, she feels it is important to have practical symbols which keep alive horizons of hope and renew possibilities of life and relationship. In that sense, it is also perhaps one fitting pointer both to our Gospel story (Luke 10.25-38) and to the divine possibilities of Christian mission today. For, in a number of other ways, the parable of the so-called ‘Good’ Samaritan is actually quite impossible…
I have always loved the story of the woman at the well, which has so many layers of interpretation. We have diverted from the lectionary today, so that we can look at it in association with Corinne Ware’s work on the Spirituality Wheel – a tool that helps us better understand our preferred forms of spirituality, and how these can aid or hinder our encounter with the divine. We will come back to this slide in our faith education session later this morning. For now, just notice that we have four main ways of approaching our spiritual life, through our head, our heart, our soul and our community. We will each tend to favour one of these over the others. Some lend themselves to a theology of transcendence, some to one of immanence. Some lean towards outward expression, some more to internal. Each produces different kinds of liturgical approach and different preferences for personal prayer. All of them will be present in a good liturgy or a good story. Today’s story, like all good stories, offers entry points for all of us, as we play with it in different ways and allow different aspects to reveal themselves...
Lepers stuck out from the crowd. They were obliged to do so by edict that demanded that they ring a bell or call out 'unclean, unclean', and that they separate themselves totally from the rest of society. They would have done so anyway, as the horrors of their progressive illness disfigured their bodies, and the smell of their rotting flesh repulsed any who came near. They would have been acutely aware of being different. Leprosy in the days before modern medicine and antibiotics was a death sentence, but an horrific death by inches over many years. The ten lepers in our story today had clearly become bound together by their common tragedy. In its face other social barriers were set aside. Yet in the midst of this group that stuck out from surrounding society, one stuck out even more. The question is: 'what made that tenth leper stand out and how can we be like him?'
A desert monk who once said: ‘the day will come when the world will go mad. When they meet someone who is sane, they will point at them and say “they are mad: they are not like us.”’ ‘They are mad: they are not like us’ – isn’t that part of the madness of our own world today? How often do we separate ourselves from others, or are separated from others, because the awareness of our common humanity has been lost? How badly do we need the sanity of loving our neighbour as ourselves?
As the Warumpi Band put it, in a notable song:
Black fella, white fella./Yellow fella, any fella./It doesn't matter, what your colour./As long as you, a true fella./As long as you, a real fella. Isn’t this at the heart of Jesus’ teaching in our Gospel passage today?...