|Pen and Ink Reflections||
What is an 'indecent' body to you? Marcella Althaus-Reid, one of the most stimulating of modern theologians, posed this question vibrantly. Her best known book, entitled Indecent Theology, challenged us to reconsider how we see and talk about bodies - especially female, sexually and gender diverse, poor and colonised bodies - all which have been treated as ‘indecent’. This, for me, is certainly at the heart of a healthy understanding of gender identity, and, crucially, affirms the gifts which gender diverse people have for the whole body of Christ and the whole body of society and our planet. It also takes us to the heart of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, where St Paul specifically commends us to honour the ‘weaker’, ‘less honourable’, ‘less respectable’ members of the Body of Christ. For, as Paul affirms, these ‘indecent’ members are ‘indispensable’, requiring ‘greater’ honour and respect...
Today a significant event in my work and social calendar was cancelled due to concerns over COVID19. It is I am sure an experience shared by many of you. Mingled with disappointment, regret and some anxiety about the consequences of this decision down the track, came a different emotion – relief. Not just relief that a decision had been reached and that the safety of myself and others was being helped; but relief also that suddenly in what is normally a packed diary a space, a ‘sabbath rest’ had appeared.
It is very easy in this circumstance for other things simply to rush in to fill the space – a sense of obligation to contact those affected by virtual means; a sudden urge to cleanse the entire house with disinfectant; an earnest searching after other means of communication, like writing this article?!
Yet the quiet voice in my soul says something different - that this extraordinary time is about being not doing; about rediscovering who we are and what is truly important. Our world and church have become extraordinarily activist. We fill our agendas with often frenzied activity. The balance of action and contemplation has tipped decidedly in favour of action. So perhaps this period of enforced inactivity may go some way to redressing that balance.
Sometimes a space where there was supposed to be activity can feel intimidating. It is not easy to move from helter skelter business to stillness and silence in one step. So, if you are wanting to use this time with grace, but uncertain how to begin, I am suggesting adopting the technique created by Sybil MacBeth called ‘Praying In Colour'. If you Google you will find the essential steps readily enough. Essentially it uses doodling and colouring as a way to get still and listen to God. While the hand is occupied, the mind can come to stillness. And if we all hold our world, and those affected by COVID19 tenderly before God in this time, we will surely come through this crisis with a deeper faith and a greater intimacy with God and with one another.
In this time of distress, may you still find blessing; in this time of anxiety, seek gratitude; and in this time of enforced sabbath, sing (and draw) praise to God.
reflection by Penny Jones, 17 March 2020
If we ever need to show how important relationships are in nurturing love and faith, Gregory of Nyssa, Macrina the Younger, and their family must be high on the list of examples. For on 19 July we particularly remember Gregory and Macrina, but other members of their family are also notable official saints in the Christian calendar: not least their brother Basil the Great, their mother Emiliana, and grandmother Macrina the Elder. This is a powerful reminder of how the relational webs of our lives are so crucial to us. Not least those women's names are also highly significant, as they point us to the usually deeply buried history of so many women in Christian Tradition, and to the vital contributions they made to the growth of the Church. Sadly, of course, even these we almost always receive through the records of men, who have filtered, through their own perspectives, the full female story. So, on 19 July for example, in the Anglican lectionary, we are able to honour Macrina the Younger. Yet this is only alongside one of her brothers, Gregory, and essentially it is by his references to her, and not through her own work directly, that we know something of her at all. This a great shame. For Gregory wrote both a hagiography, entitled the Life of Macrina, and a profound reflection, entitled a Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection, which he dedicated to Macrina, purportedly describing the deep conversation he had with her on her deathbed. These are wonderful, for they show to us a quite remarkable woman who was clearly a central spiritual influence and model for her family and the wider Church. Spiritually and intellectually, she shaped, in her brothers Gregory and Basil, two of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time. In addition, within the limits of her times, she created new space for women. Yet, we might then wonder, despite Gregory's fine tributes, how much more is there which we may never know about her and about other women of her day. What we do have remains an inspiration to us today. For Macrina shows us what it is to be an outstanding sister in the Faith...