|Pen and Ink Reflections||
all desires known
If I were choosing the books which have most shaped and inspired my life, then very high on that list would be Janet Morley’s All Desires Known. Originally published in England in 1988 by the Movement for the Ordination of Women, and Women in Theology, it remains not only as an evocative expression of the Christian feminism which shaped so much of my early adult and ministerial life, which I also shared in with my wife Penny, and which, in many ways (together with other aspects of faith, and football) saved my life. Like Janet Morley’s earlier book Celebrating Women, co-edited with Hannah Ward, it also represents a landmark in the development of new life-giving language and imagery for God. For All Desires Known is a book of prayers for public and private worship, and it was formed out of the experience of an intentional community, the St Hilda Community, which specifically sought ‘to receive the broader vision of our Christian heritage and women’s spiritual offerings in language which excludes no person and no image of God’: a ‘non-sexist’ community, giving ‘full space and authority to women, without apology, secrecy, or shame.’ It is good to recall this today, in the wake of International Women’s Day this week, and as we hear the subversive, and in some ways shocking, Gospel story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. For exploring life-giving language and imagery for God and prayer remains an invitation to us all. Like the woman at the well, we too seek living water, and the source which can quench our thirst: our profound, existential desire for life in all its fullness.
invited to praise and joy
Our Gospel readings this week and next relate to what has traditionally been termed ‘the call’ of Jesus. Like the often very institutional church calls to ‘mission’, about which I spoke a fortnight ago, this call can often be interpreted quite narrowly, even oppressively. Indeed, it has sometimes been treated as a demand. Yet, in reality, as we see in both this week and next week’s Gospel’s reading, the call of Jesus is not so much a demand as an invitation. It seeks, as I said a fortnight ago, to draw us not drive us: to draw us into divine love and new life, not drive us into anything else, however admirable. For note well Jesus’ specific words in today’s reading from John’s Gospel: ‘come and see’. Like the words ‘follow me’ in Matthew’s Gospel next week, whilst Jesus invites, there is no compulsion. Nor is particular direction or content provided, although the Gospel record provides us early Christian understandings. Rather the invitation is primarily to an adventure of faith and experience. There is no requirement of belief as such, though that might emerge to give expression to the experience of the journey. There is no clear timetable, shape or schedule, or obvious destination. Jesus simply calls on those who will to set out on a shared pathway, walking together in trust. Is that how we see faith today?...
Today’s Gospel story is one which resonates powerfully with me. For I had lower back problems for many years, and I still vividly remember my back going into total spasm as I once tried to change trains at Strathfield station. I was bent double and simply could not move, despite the help of others. It was a key moment in which I began to realise that my life, and especially my relationship to my body, had to change. I had to start listening to my body, in which so many emotions, not least denied gender and sexual emotions, were trapped. Not simply physically, but in other ways, I had to learn to bend and unbend, more fully to know and flow into my life and spirit. Now, of course, not all our ailments and physical challenges have obvious spiritual connections. However many, in my experience, do, and this is certainly part of what the Gospel writer is trying to say to us in our story today. For whilst we may speculate on the likely form of physical arthritis with which the woman may have been afflicted, Luke is calling us to recognise our spiritual arthritis and its potential for transformation in God. At this time, in the life of this community, and the wider Church and world, it is perhaps well worth reflecting upon. Indeed, as we continue to ponder our own mission calling together, it is good to ask what bending and unbending might represent for us, not least in our prayer and worship life. For whilst it might be tempting to consider today’s Gospel story in relation to many whose physical bodies and lives need unbending, I believe that the great mystic Evelyn Underhill had it right when she said:
We mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, and to Do… forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by, and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be.
Prayer and worship, she, and I, would propose, are about helping us with that fundamental verb: bending and unbending our lives and bodies, our whole selves, be-ing, in relationship to the Spirit of all…
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Josephine Inkpin, a married Anglican clergy couple serving with the Uniting Church in Sydney