Gate or Shepherd: Who is he?
Acts 2.42-47, Ps 23, John 10.1-10
This morning we stood on the jetty watching a group of pelicans and cormorants fishing. They were purposely drifting with the tide, one plucky cormorant leading the way, others diving, the pelicans gliding in their stately way. Moving with the flow they were feeding and being carried at the same time. Drifting towards the river mouth – simply being themselves; free and full of life.
Little wonder that Jesus disciples didn’t understand him. There can sometimes be a riddle like quality to his sayings. Today’s gospel has him tell us that he is the gate of the sheepfold through which the true shepherd leads the flock. Then immediately after he says he is the shepherd (Jn 10.11). Is he the gate or is he the shepherd? Or is he both? And how can that be?
Just as Jesus often responds to questions put to him with another question, so his sayings sometimes raise more questions than answers. And this is no bad thing. We are led to inquire more deeply into the text and its possible meaning. We need to stay with the words. Pray with them. Allow a kind of mulling over of them, not so much to arrive at a quick and definitive answer, as to allow the words to lead us to the Word in our heart. In this way we are more likely to realize the meaning for ourselves. When we stay with those words, which at first glance are difficult to understand, then we enter a process whereby we may encounter, or be met by, the one who is the Word. And, in this way we are transformed by the Word, through our living relationship with Christ Jesus, as the Word; the I Am who was in the beginning and who is now.
So, we need here to recognize that the scriptures can be read and understood at different levels. Some take the scriptures very literally. Or, we can read a scholarly exegesis and come to an intellectual understanding of the meaning of the text. Another way is to listen to the words with the ‘ear of the heart’. This takes time and a willingness to open our heart to new possibilities and even uncertainties.
So, is he the gate or the shepherd? Read literally, this is an absurdity. However, read literarily, it is a means of challenging us to hear with the ear of the heart which has a far more expansive capacity for understanding. To read in this way we need to spend time with the text. We need to become inwardly still and quiet. What better time than now for us to do so?
For today though let’s spend a few minutes unpacking this question:
How can Jesus be both gate and shepherd?
This is a paradox. Which means, ‘a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true.’ It is our ‘investigation’, our prayerful meditation upon the words, that may, in time lead us to truth.
Jesus words suggest a paradox that leads us to truth. He is both gate and shepherd. He is the way in and out. And he is one who leads others in and out. Paradox suggests a both/and way of seeing as compared to an either/or understanding. He is both gate and shepherd at the same time. This way of seeing or understanding is non-dualistic. We understand Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. In this way he embodies non-dualism. To understand we must undergo a spiritual shift of consciousness; allow our usual way of understanding to be transfigured.
Remember, Jesus here is speaking to his disciples prior to his death and resurrection. They haven’t ‘got’ him yet. It will take the massive disruption of their usual way of understanding and knowing to realize who he is. And this only happens by way of his resurrection. Pauls’ vision was completely disoriented on the road to Damascus before he was re-oriented and came to see anew.
That Jesus is both gate and shepherd, both human and divine, may well confound our usual way of understanding. But the challenge is to stay with this sense of being confounded (if indeed we are!). Faith enables us to be with a kind of unknowing that can lead us to a deeper or more expansive knowing. Jesus’ humanity does not preclude his divinity and his divinity includes his humanity.
Jesus says he is many things. I am the gate, the shepherd, the true vine and so on. And these are helpful images for us. His way of using such everyday images is a significant aspect of his way of teaching. Before the images however are the words ‘I am’. And these are the words upon which I’d like to place some emphasis.
He is both the portal (gate) into abundant Life (the kingdom) and the one to follow through that portal. How are we to follow? And what is this gate?
We can follow by living the ethics of a Christian life. We can try to do the right thing as best we can. We can look to the life and teachings of Jesus as an historical figure and follow his example. We can struggle to live a Christian ethic in an outward sense. But perhaps the best way to live the ethical life is through the exterior expression of the interior life. There is a sense in which we might understand the ‘following’ of Jesus to be, not so much what we do, but rather our own self-discovery in another person – Christ. The ‘I Am’ of the God who spoke to Moses and the ‘I Am’ of Christ, is the ‘I Am’ of the true Self who resides within us – the Word who was in the beginning (Jn1.1). To follow Jesus is to discover our true Self in him; the I Am that resides in simply being-in-love and precedes any action. We are held in being by God’s love before anything we do or say. And God’s love is the reality that gives Life to everything. Jesus desire for us to know abundant life arises from his own knowledge of himself as abiding in God’s love. The same ‘I Am’ of God lives in and through him, and through us if only we would know it.
But perhaps all of this sounds like just more of a riddle! If so, then maybe all we really need to know is that God’s desire for us is to have abundant life – expansion of Spirit – by way of Love. We ‘follow’ by way of love. The shepherd is the gateway to Love. When we simply abide in that love then perhaps the answer to all life’s riddles is met and we can simply flow with the tide of God’s love. Simple and free.
And below is a lovely poem based on the gospel reading for today which says it all really!
Pasture (John 10.1-10)
There is a place we can find, a good place
Like quiet meadows where flowers spread,
Like green grasses by gentle streams;
A place where the heart feels nourished,
Where the mind is hopeful, unhurried,
Where the spirit is glad and at peace.
We’ll name this place fulfilment,
We’ll name it healing and thankfulness,
We’ll name this good place pasture
For there we seek to feed.
And there is a voice we can hear that calls us,
A gentle voice, melodious,
A voice like songbirds and laughter,
Like a mother comforting her children,
Like a shepherd calling his sheep.
We’ll name this voice acceptance,
We’ll name it mercy and forgiveness,
We’ll name it the voice of God’s love,
Inviting us gently to feed.
It invites us to enter pasture
When we think we are too hurting too listen,
Too angry or grieving or fearful
To hear the voice that calls us to peace.
It invites us to enter pasture
When we’re too busy to listen,
Too burdened or worried or pressured
To hear the voice that calls us to peace.
It says: Come in and go out and find pasture.
It says: We are safe with the shepherd of all sheep.
It says: Meadows await us, in this moment.
It says: Rest in love. Where you are. Joyfully feed.
2nd Easter Year A
Faith and Belief
Acts 2.14a,22-32, Ps 16, 1 Peter 1.1-12, John 20.19-31
Today’s reflection touches on the difference between belief and faith. They are in relationship of course however they are often taken to mean the same thing. You may agree or not with the following thoughts however perhaps they will prompt some helpful personal reflection.
You might remember the story of the man who wakes in the night to see a snake lying coiled nearby. He remains frozen with fear through the dark hours. Then, as the sun rises, and light begins to filter into his hut, he sees that the snake is in fact a bit of coiled rope that he had forgotten to put away!
This is a story of perception. The man believed he saw a snake. In truth it was a bit of rope. The consequence of this mistaken perception was that the man spent the night frozen with fear.
At one time in human history human beings believed that the earth was flat. That belief or perception was wrong as we now know thanks to the advent of scientific inquiry. And people such as Galileo Galiliei were condemned for their scientific findings. Specifically, he had been charged with teaching and defending the Copernican doctrine that holds that the Sun is at the centre of the universe and that the earth moves. This doctrine had been deemed heretical. Today of course we know that Galilei was right despite the strong beliefs of the church.
So, belief is fraught with the possibility of wrong perception. Thomas, now known as ‘doubting Thomas’, seemed to me to possess a healthy scepticism. To doubt does not mean to lack faith. Belief and faith are not the same thing. Statement of belief, when they become hardened into dogmatic formulae, can indeed, stymie our growth in faith. Faith, by its very essence, can accommodate uncertainty. If it couldn’t then it would not be faith.
“Christians have often limited their understanding of faith to what they believe, or worse, what they feel they have to believe in order ‘to be saved’.”
On the cross Jesus experienced abandonment by God. At that most critical point of his life, his dying, there was nothing certain, nothing sure. Yet his whole life was a lived act of faith that took him to that moment, and beyond. His life of faith was that of one who tells us, unless you lay down your life, you will not find it.
We live in uncertain times. We don’t know when we will resume our usual social life. We don’t know when Covid_19 will be supressed. Many have lost their jobs and don’t know what the future holds for them. We do know that climate change will bring increasingly uncertain times as weather events disrupt life on earth. So, now more than ever, our faith will need to serve us and others. And the church, rather than being an institution bound up by dogma, needs to be a community of faith; a community that serves life in uncertain times; a living community of love big enough to embrace uncertainty and difference.
It takes faith to entertain doubt. It takes faith to forgive. It certainly takes faith to love as fully as we are called to love. Faith is not what we think about; it’s not an idea or concept. Faith is a way of seeing and a way of living.
What Thomas came to see, through the eyes of faith, was the risen Jesus. His perception was transfigured such that he came to recognize Christ even though his reasoning mind said it could not be so. And this seeing, this knowing, along with the other disciples, led him to living a life, not of fear, but of faith grounded in the reality of the Living Christ; the Spirit of Christ who lives through us. Jesus ‘layed down his life’, emptied himself. We too are called to such radical faith. Belief is meant to serve faith – not to stunt it. Belief is like the fingers that point to the moon. They are not the moon itself. Jesus always pointed beyond himself to ‘the Father’, to God. Christianity, in these times, needs enough faith to remain grounded in Christ even as we accommodate difference and uncertainty.
Faith is dynamic – not static. It’s a way of living. We can rejoice in our faith as the first letter of Peter encourages. We are ‘given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1.3). Such faith is a ‘path of life’, a way of living in the light and presence of the Lord where there is’ fullness of joy’ (Ps 16.11) It is a faith into which “angels long to look” (1 Peter 1.12). Human longing for God; for the mystery of unconditional Love, is a faith-filled seeking. It is about relationship with that which we can never fully comprehend. As St Paul says, ‘now we see through a glass darkly, (Cor 13.12). The mystery of Jesus resurrection; the disciples encounter with the risen Christ, filled them with faith such that they came to believe that the One whom they encountered was the same One who had died. And through him we have life. Amen.
Questions for reflection
 Laurence Freeman ,First Sight: The Experience of Faith.p 9, Continuum Books, NY 2011
ere to edit.
Easter 2020 - in a world of pandemic
This reflection covers Good Friday through to Easter Sunday. It poses some questions that you may like to stay and pray with. Principally, who is God on the cross and who is the human being in light of the cross and resurrection of Christ?
I hope you will find these reflections fruitful and that the God of Life will fill you this Easter.
When Jesus tells his companions, in the garden of Gethsemane, that he is ‘deeply, grieved, even to death’ (Matt 26.38) he is no doubt grieving for his own life and the terrifying ordeal that is awaiting him. However, his grief may also have been that he was so acutely conscious that human beings were about to torture and destroy, or at least attempt to destroy, truth and grace and beauty. His grief was for these human beings, perhaps more than for himself. That humanity is so capable of cruelty and wilful ignorance and self-interested violence against innocence is painfully obvious.
The context of the world we live in at present is that of a world in a global pandemic, accelerating climate change contributing to extreme events such as the recent drought and bushfires and a world in which there are 70 million people displaced by war and persecution and poverty. Many innocents are suffering.
Where is God? This is the cry Jesus made on the cross ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Where is God now? Who is God?
The great theologian Jurgen Moltmann, who was a prisoner of war in WWII, asks this question, as so many have throughout the ages. He writes:
‘To take up the theology of the cross today is to go beyond the limits of the doctrine of salvation and to inquire into the revolution needed in the concept of God. Who is God in the cross of the Christ who is abandoned by God?
The Cross challenged Jesus companions about their understanding of God. Today it continues to challenge our concepts of God. Many ask, who is God in this context? We must return to the cross for some answer.
On the cross God in Jesus suffers and dies. In our present time we see God precisely in those who may be suffering now: the lonely, those who may feel abandoned, those for whom there are not enough ventilators, those in refugee camps as the virus begins to take hold there. We see God suffering in creation. This may be a hard thing to believe given the triumphalist versions of God we have made. Some ask, if God is all powerful then why doesn’t God intervene to stop this virus? And so much other suffering. We must understand the power of God in very different terms. Divine power is the power to continue loving despite suffering; to continue to care despite apathy; to continue to hope despite what seems hopeless; to continue to act for justice and truth despite the powers of the world. The ‘foolishness’ of the cross is just this: that divine power is not the power of the ‘strong man’, the power of the world, but is rather that power of enduring Love and forgiveness even in the face of suffering and crisis.
Covid-19 comes hot on the heels of the bushfire crisis in our country. And no doubt the climate crisis will send more events on our way. These times have been described even in the popular media as apocalyptic. The word apocalyptic has to do with something being revealed. What is being revealed through these crises? And where and who is God in this? Many will be seeking the meaning in these events. We know the reason for much of them.
Disease ecologist Peter Darzak says:
“The virus’s original host was almost certainly a bat, as was the case with Ebola, SARS, MERS and lesser-known viruses such as Nipah and Marburg. HIV migrated to humans more than a century ago from a chimpanzee. Influenza A has jumped from wild birds to pigs to people. Rodents spread Lassa fever in West Africa.”
“But the problem is not the animals, according to scientists who study the zoonotic diseases that pass between animals and humans. It’s us.”
“A global wildlife trade worth billions of dollars, agricultural intensification, deforestation and urbanization are bringing people closer to animals, giving their viruses more of what they need to infect us: opportunity. Most fail. Some succeed on small scales. Very few, like SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, triumph, aided by a supremely interconnected human population that can transport a pathogen around the world on a jet in mere hours. “
Human behaviour is the reason for many of our calamities. So, as significant as the question ‘Who is God?’ is, it also gives rise to the question ‘Who are we?’ What does it mean to be human? Are we growing in our humanity? The cross begs the same question. Who was this mob who condemned an innocent man to such an awful death?
Jurgen Moltmann again:
“To take the theology of the cross at the present day means to go beyond a concern for personal salvation, and to inquire about the liberation of humanity and our new relationship to the crisis in our society. Who is the true human in the sight of the Son of man who was rejected and rose again in the freedom of God?”
What is being revealed to us in these ‘apocalyptic’ times about who we are and where we are heading?
A central understanding of the Christian faith is that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. This is a paradox: the holding together of what seem to be opposites. We can’t quite get our head around it. But the Christian faith also suggests that we, sons and daughters of God, are also meant to grow in divinity. The incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth did not stop with his death. The risen Christ is present everywhere. Through the Spirit Christ becomes present throughout creation, in us. This incarnatio continua however can only grow to fullness when we give our assent to that growth within us. St Pauls conversion led him to say, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.’
After his death Jesus disciples were left utterly bereft. They thought he was the messiah, the ‘strong man’ who would overthrow their oppressors. Their religious understanding was completely disoriented. Then on Easter Sunday some of them began to encounter him in a new way. Those encounters with the Risen Christ were so powerful that they transfigured (changed the perception) of many. They were confronted by a new understanding of who God is. And this new perception changed their understanding of themselves. Their fear and confusion fell away. They grew in their humanity. They founded communities of love and spoke truth to power.
Who is God in the cross of the Christ who is abandoned by God?
Who is the true human in the sight of the Son of Man who was rejected and rose again in the freedom of God?”
We might each continue to prayerfully ask those questions for ourselves.
For me the two questions are simply the two sides of the same coin. We are free in God, made free by the God who cannot be contained by death; who in weakness is strong; who loves beyond measure; who even when rejected is free to rise again; who for-gives, gives God’s very self for us, that we may come to know the fullness of our humanity. The world will be saved when we allow God to live more and more through us. Truth and Grace and Beauty cannot be ultimately destroyed. Christ is Risen. Amen.
Easter blessings to all as we celebrate the reality of the Risen Christ wherever we are at this time. Peace be with you.
Easter 3 Year A 2020
And he vanished from their sight
Acts 2.14a, 36-41, 1 Peter 1.13-25, Luke 24.13-35
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
There is a well known saying, “If you see the buddha on the road, kill him”, that came to mind when I read the gospel this time round. The meaning of that saying is, that we must never make an idol of God; that when we think we’ve ‘got’ God then we better think again! The reality of God cannot be captured in the same way that we might understand that 2 plus 2 equals 4. The mystery of God is beyond our comprehension
Yet, at the same time we can ‘know’ God. Another paradox perhaps. But essentially the saying reminds us that we too often make God in our own image rather than knowing God through the ‘image’ of God in which we are made.
One way of describing this difference might be, that it is the difference between taking a photo of someone and thinking that the photo is actually the person, and the reality of the actual person with whom we are in dynamic relationship. God’s image in us is the deepest reality of who we are; not a static picture but rather a centre of energy alive within us. And our knowing this reality is not of the kind of knowing that 2 plus 2 equals 4. The knowing of God is God’s knowing in us. Because through the crucified and risen Jesus, God’s life becomes intimately present at the human and earthly level. The human and divine become inextricably connected. Our eyes are opened and we recognize Christ through sustained relationship at the level of our humanity. This relationship is not one that can be tied down by a list of beliefs that we are meant to adhere to in order to join the club of Christianity. Christian faith is about venturing more deeply and fully into dynamic relationship with the crucified and risen One.
So, in the sense that I am meaning it, belief can become an idea about God which remains static and devolves into an idol of our own making. Faith is about allowing God to reveal Godself to us in any given moment, often in new and surprising ways.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus are surprised. Jesus of Nazareth is gone. They are in grief and bewilderment. And it is at just such times, when life opens some vulnerability in us, that we may be more receptive to recognising God in a new way. Walking along the road with this stranger they tell him the story not realizing that this stranger lives the story from within. Eventually, having spent time with him, they recognize him in the breaking of the bread. And then he vanishes! Just as Jesus says to Mary in the garden, do not cling to me, he will not allow these disciples to hold on to him.
We can become very rusted on to ideas about God. Yet the journey of faith calls us to be always letting go of our own ideas and images, our own construction of God, so that the living God can rise afresh within us continually. And, sometimes its only in retrospect that we recognize that God was living through us. Its quite common for instance in the process of spiritual direction, as we share our experience with another, that we see those God moments that we might otherwise have missed. Yes, we might say. As I walked on the beach and noticed the sun glistening on the water, I felt myself drawn to stopping and attending to that light; something was happening below the surface. “Were not our hearts burning within us, while he was talking to us on the road?”
And he vanished from their sight.
He kept coming and going. First, he appeared being baptised by John. He began teaching and healing and disappearing up a mountain or into a boat. Then he was killed and his body lay in a tomb. But then he was gone! And now he reappears to the disciples in various ways before vanishing again. Yet he leaves this promise that they will never be alone. He will be with them. With us. And lo, the Holy Spirit is breathed into them. The Hoy Spirit breathes in us.
Is God simply playing hide and seek with us? Or is it that we are meant to be always in this faith process, this journey of letting go of our set ways of seeing God? And if that’s the case then how can we ever know whether the promise that he is always with us is true?
“Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.” (1 Peter 1.21). Our faith and hope are founded in the God who is always giving up life for us. Jesus, who died on the cross, now lives through us, through the Spirit. That life is not something we can prescribe or coerce or control. We must give ourselves up to that life within us. Jesus’ vanishing, forms and informs our understanding. We can only grow in faith as we let go of the ways in which we hold onto the God of our own making. It takes faith to allow our ideas about God to fall away so that we can begin to know God from within. That is to say, there is a difference between talking or thinking about God as an abstracted notion of some-thing about which we speak as though that God is not a living reality in and amongst us; there is a difference between that, and the encounter that ‘opens our eyes’ through lived relationship. We are called to give ourselves into this lived, faith filled, relationship with the one who comes to us as friend or as stranger, yet whom we somehow know to be the one who died, who vanished and who lives again.
But they urged him strongly saying, ‘stay with us.’ So, he went in to stay with them. He took bread and broke it and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
As we commemorate Anzac Day this year, I am given to reflect on one of my uncles who served in WW11. My mother’s brother Lieutenant William Boydell died, or rather disappeared, was lost in action, at Sanananda, PNG when his battalion, the 49th, was utterly outnumbered by the Japanese. His body has never been found. And so, he has the words ‘No known grave – known unto God’ ascribed to him. His death of course left its life- long mark on those who loved him, as is the case for so many. Yet, there is something, perhaps surprisingly, comforting about those words – known unto God. He disappeared from those who knew him, yet he was and is always known to God from whom no one actually vanishes.
Jesus gave himself up to the hands of violence, to death. But the power of God, which is the love we know in Christ, cannot be contained by death. “You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1.22) The seed of God, the image of God in which we are created endures beyond our individual set of personal characteristics, our possessions, our status, our ideas, concepts, images and beliefs about God. How then can we know this God who keeps vanishing from our sight? By love, through love. And through that particular love by which we recognise Christ; that love which gives itself into our human frailty’s and flaws and failures; the love beyond measure that keeps giving into our broken social systems, our violence and greed and possessiveness and which cannot be contained by them. Peters letter exhorts us to holiness by way of this purified love,’ by genuine mutual love, that we may love one another deeply from the heart.’
Questions for Reflection
Click here toLazarus and the crisis of Pandemic
The story of Lazarus is an iconic story in our culture. Even those who are not engaged in Christian faith and the reading of the gospel, are familiar with the name Lazarus and its meaning. Perhaps these days however there are fewer people who even understand what Lazarus is about. Jesus faith was such that he appears to have had little concern about Lazarus when told that his dear friend was ill. He delayed his travel to see him. And by the time he arrived Lazarus was being mourned by those who loved him. Martha and Mary admonish Jesus for taking too long. Lazarus is dead and laid to rest in the tomb. Even Jesus is visibly distressed. Has he been too laisezz faire? Should he have rushed to heal Lazarus before he became so ill that he died?
Of course, we know the story has a happy ending. Just as we live on this side of the resurrection of Jesus. But the grief of those who mourned outside the tomb was utterly understandable. Their disappointment and even anger with Jesus made sense.
In many respects we are living in a time of loss, grief and unknowing about what the future holds for the world and for the church – our parish. Having just come through the bushfire crisis we are confronted by a very different kind of crisis in the Covid-19 global pandemic. The decision to cease our services came suddenly if not quite unexpectedly. We didn’t have time as a gathered parish together, to consider what it might mean. And now we must practice the necessary social distancing that may lead to a sense of isolation and anxiety as we wait for this crisis to pass. Yet in our aloneness we may encounter the consolation and grace of God. This is our opportunity to ‘wait on the Lord’.
‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in his word I hope.’
During this past week I have been ‘rushing’ to figure out technological ways of keeping our parish connected and offering spiritual nourishment. I have never been a great fan of the almost wholesale move of our society to going ‘online’, although I recognise and appreciate the many ways in which it is a gift. The fact is that this crisis is precipitating an even greater migration into the online world. And this will enable a great deal of work, communication, and continuing efficiency. However, we would be really missing something if we simply transferred our busyness from one thing to the other. We are still in Lent and this is the season to slow, to observe a more prayerful rhythm of days, that we may journey with Jesus towards the cross and resurrection. Jesus didn’t rush to Lazarus side. He observed God’s timing. He waited until the prompting of God called him. His faith stilled him.
‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in his word I hope’.
We don’t really know how long we will need to practice social distancing. We will be challenged as individuals and as a parish. And it may well be that some things will die away during this time. We can only remain faithful as we wait. We can only trust that resurrection will come according to the Lord.
‘To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace’ (Romans 8.6). At this time let us set our minds on the Spirit and be at peace. If we feel alone, turn to God in quiet prayer and wait there. If we feel anxious, again, attend to the Spirit who breathes within us always, ‘the Spirit of God dwells in you’ (Rm 8.9). Now may well be the time to surrender into God’s presence within, to sit quietly in the garden and notice the beauty of creation, to spend more time in attentive reading of the scriptures and other spiritual reading, to meditate in solitude or join others in prayer by phone, to call another and share the simple moments of our day. During these beautiful autumn days, we might give thanks for the place in which we live. We might give thanks for the silent communion of souls in prayer that no physical distance can separate. And, of course if we become very anxious or lonely there are people whom we can call. We are never really alone for the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from death dwells in us.
When Jesus finally made the move to travel to Bethany to see Lazarus his disciples became very worried, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’, they ask him. But Jesus tells them he is going to ‘awaken’ Lazarus and will go in the Light. They argue with him but in the end, Thomas says, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’. He is prepared to surrender his life to travel in the light with Jesus. May we also journey with the Christ in these days, turning to the Light, even when all seems dark. May we trust that new life will arise; that what is bound will be unbound, when we listen for the voice Who calls to us, Come out, Come out and live!
Questions for personal reflection:
What are the spiritual gifts that might come through this time of crisis If I/we are able to ‘wait on the Lord’?
What in me needs to die away at this time? Might I gently and prayerfully give this to God?
‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in his word I hope’.
Picture taken from the roof of our house – water bomber overhead – fire approaching
An exhausted evacuee as we set up the evac beds in the Church
Traditionally, by Christmas Eve the Christmas beetles are filling the vestry. They meet us at the door where the lights are on, sometimes even flying around the church as we worship. This year there were none. But as we always do, we told the story of Wombat Divine to the children on Christmas Day. With hand puppets of native animals, emu, kangaroo, bilby and more we share Wombats longing to be part of the nativity play; his disappointment at missing so many parts and his final triumph when he lands the role of the baby Jesus.
This year the beetles were missing, as were the shearwaters on the beach. And we’ve not seen nor heard any black swans for many weeks. Usually their morning and evening flight overhead and their distinctive honk is a reminder of the rhythm of days and of our meditation practice. I hope the beetles knew ahead not to come this year. I hope the swans heeded some invisible call to leave early.
When the phone rang at 6am on New Years Eve morning, with the sound of an alarm and a voice telling us to leave now as our lives were at risk, I was glad that we had prepared to leave. We knew what we would do. The car was packed and facing in the right direction. I just needed to put the cat in, and we were off. Anthony, my husband, had decided to stay and defend the house. I went into town (Moruya) and opened the church and parish hall for others who began to arrive that morning shaken and anxious. A young family, partners of those out fighting the fires, some parishioners and others including various animals found their way in during the morning. We parted the pews to make sleeping cubicles, one family camped in the vestry, others in the hall and office. Now we waited, glued to the Fires Near Me app that showed the frightening extent of the growth and size of fires as they began to join up. Later we lost power and communications. As I looked in the direction of Mossy Point, our home, I was horrified to see those now familiar massive fire clouds glowing red. Contact with Anthony had gone. We could only wait and pray. We were fortunate that day. Although the sand dunes nearby caught fire the southerly came literally in the nick of time. Many others lost their homes.
Over a period of 10 days we had 3 evacuation orders. By the third I had decided to stay. And in the end the conditions were milder than expected. Over that same period, we were mostly without power and reliable communications, including our usual lifeline the local ABC radio, roads were cut, food and fuel were at times in short supply. For many weeks we have breathed in the smoke of so many fires raging around us. At times thick, acrid and cloying the smoke now permeates everything. Day after day and night the sun and moon both glow red behind a veil of smoke. We live with apocalyptic images. It’s frightening to think that we might become used to this as the new normal.
Australia has lost 28 human lives, an estimated one billion native animals and at least 2,000 human houses since the fires started burning in September. 9 million hectares, an area the size of Ireland, are burnt. Much of the eastern seaboard and ranges are a massive scar in the landscape. In places the fire has burnt the very soil. A 4th generation farmer who lost her home near here told me that the bare dirt was burning. “There’s no coming back from this’ she said. Sorrow, grief can come only in small doses. Too much is overwhelming. The deep howl within us comes out only very occasionally and quietly. Most of the time we simply get on with what needs to be done. But I have a sense of desolation in the very air around us; the awareness of incalculable loss.
During one of the worst days, when we were refugees in our own church, I wrote up a list of activities for the day in order to keep us occupied. The kids loved the pom-pom making. And I invited people to meditate at various times during the day. I cleared a space in the parish office and a few of us gathered there. Amid fear and anxiety, swirling orange smoke, and the constant sound of planes filling up with water from the river, we joined in wordless prayer. As we finished one session, and remained sitting in silence, I knew God in the stillness at the heart of it all. Our little evacuation centre became a place of grounded care. And I’m sure that the prayer that the church has held for over 120 years and the living faith of those of us holding that space in those few days enabled a sense of safety and calm for those who came.
Nevertheless, some of the images of the ‘fire fields’ in Australia have been described as apocalyptic. Presently there are massive dust storms in western NSW that have been described in the same way. Even non- religious types have been using such language. The real meaning of apocalypse is the revealing of that which is hidden. What do we need to see at times such as this? Clearly, one of the realities that we need to wake up to very quickly is that humanity cannot go on living as we are in relation to other-than-human life. In Australia, in places, the infernos have incinerated all life. Native worms, spiders and other humble ground-dwellers that ‘till’ the soil have been destroyed. There is a real chance of local eco-systems collapse. Fish are dying en masse due to asphyxiation as ash from the fires extinguishes oxygen in the last remaining puddles that were once rivers. Many of us now have entered that feeling state known as Solastalgia* as we live in a parched and burnt environment. Solastalgia is the sense of homesickness we know not because we have left home but because our home has changed so much. Sadness, grief and yes, rage, are commonly encountered. Our politicians seem utterly incapable of grasping the fact of their own failure in responding to the reality of climate crisis. Our political landscape is as desiccated and degraded as our once beautiful natural landscape. We lament the loss and grieve for what we love.
On Sunday, our Bishop, speaking at our church, referred to Walter Bruegemann’s categorising of the Psalms into three groups: psalms of orientation, disorientation and re-orientation. The disorientation of the last weeks has been significant. The movement now must be towards re-orientation. However, if we imagine that re-orienting means to go back to things as they were then we have got it very wrong. If we fail to see what this ‘apocalypse’ is revealing, then our destruction is assured. Our re-orientation must be towards Life rather than death. We must rapidly learn to live in a mutually enhancing way with the rest of the earth community. We have taken up too much too much space, we are committing eco-cide and potentially omnicide. We cannot ‘jolly’ ourselves up with the ‘hope’ that things will go back to normal. The climate crisis, and this bushfire crisis present us with a choice.
As I sit here, having returned to where I left off writing, there are many birds feeding in our garden and drinking from the bird baths. We have spread seed, fruit and small bits of meat for the maggies and kookaburras. Decimated habitat has brought creatures closer. Here in Mossy we are one of many small oases. And rain is falling. We have heard about how wombats, during the fires, shared their burrows with snakes and quolls; some say they even shepherded other animals to the safety of their burrows. Its raining now. But we must not forget the fires of 2019/20. We must remember. And we must let this remembering be the spur to act on what they have revealed to us. Lest we forget.
On Jan 23, the fire took off again and licked the edges of Moruya, destroying many more homes. Our Shire is now into Day 63 of these fires and the fire fields cover most of our once beautiful landscape.
2016 Christian Meditatio Paper: Keepers of the Space
The following paper was written by Rev Linda Chapman, an Oblate of the Christian Meditation Community and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Moruya. See the following link for details of the Meditatio Event in Sydney in 2016.
THE HUMAN VOCATION AS KEEPERS OF THE SPACE means that we are meant to live as part of the whole earth community in a way that secures spaces for both human and other-than-human life to flourish. The Creation story of Genesis is a story of God opening up these spaces for life. All creatures are given habitat. The human being is born into this Garden of life but we are now encroaching on the space of others and are causing serious harm. The practice of meditation however is a way of hope. It is a spiritual practice that opens up the space of cosmic consciousness such that we might recognize our identity as creatures interdependent with all creation and in need of balance.
Meditation enables a way of life that restores harmony and balance; the balance necessary for life, for all to live. Much of our contemporary culture and consciousness is about growing the ‘space’ of the economy. The Genesis narrative however tells us that the oikos, the household of God, from which the word economy is derived, is about the balancing of ecology and economy. When our focus is heavily weighted on economy we become split and unbalanced. We veer in the direction of harm, rather than securing space for life to flourish.
In Genesis, humanity is given the task of 'cultivating', tilling, keeping, the garden of Eden. The Creation story is a primal poetic narrative of meaning rather than fact. It is the meaning that matters for us at this stage of our evolutionary journey.
The understanding that the human vocation is to ‘keep the space’ derives from the earliest activity of the Creator in the Genesis story, who opened up the various spaces for particular creatures to enjoy their particular habitats. God opened up the spaces of night and day, of the waters that would teem with living things; the sky with every winged bird according to its kind, and the dry ground; the space where vegetation could come forth. And God saw that all was good and desired an abundance of the various life forms within their spaces. And then the human being, the Adam, was formed from the same elements as the earth, the Adamah. And God saw that it was all very good and on the seventh day rested. Our vocation according to the creation story is to be keepers of the spaces and the whole space of the earth community. And the direction of creation is to come to the wholeness of God’s indwelling, to be a resting place, to rest with God. This is peace. This is shalom.
This peace however is significantly challenged in our current environment by the ecological crises we are now facing. As others have said the ecological crisis is a spiritual crisis; a crisis of human identity. We have forgotten who we are. And when we forget who we are we forget how to live. Yet in this age it may be that we are waking up to that consciousness that re-members creation. We are realizing our co-creative vocation perhaps just in time. Our original gifting with the responsibility to be keepers of the space sees the need for us to collaborate with the whole earth community through the vivifying activity of the (w)Holy Spirit.
“The human task” says Rowan Williams, is “to draw out potential treasures in the powers of nature and so to realise the convergent process of humanity and nature discovering in collaboration what they can become. The 'redemption' of people and material life in general is not a matter of resigning from the business of labour and of transformation – as if we could – but the search for a form of action that will preserve and nourish an interconnected development of humanity and its environment. In some contexts, this will be the deliberate protection of the environment from harm: in a world where exploitative and aggressive behaviour is commonplace, one of the 'providential' tasks of human beings must be to limit damage and to secure space for the natural order to exist unharmed. “
Meditation is a form of action in and of itself and provides the basis for action which is contemplative. Meditation, as contemplative practice, reminds us of who we are and how to live in a way that may preserve the interconnected community of creation. It heals our aggression and exploitative tendencies. The contemplative practice of meditation is an action of deep listening and it bears the fruit of real humility.
The convergent process of human and other-than-human nature, discovering in collaboration what we can become, requires of us deep listening and true humility. The truth of humility is that we are humus; we are earthlings, grounded and embodied beings whose habitat is within the sheltering space of the earth. We do not live on the earth but rather we are part of earth. Humility is the knowledge and experience of who we are and where we fit in the order, or relatedness, of things. The depth of our listening will be according to the extent of our relationship with the other with whom we exist in community. The Australian Aboriginal woman Miriam Rose Ungemerr from the Daly River in the Northern Territory describes such relational listening as Dadirri which she says is like our understanding of contemplation. Dadirri is ‘inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. When I experience dadirri, I am made whole again.’
The original people of Australia know, or knew, their identity as intimately connected with the other–than-human environment. Djambawa Marawili, a Yolgnu man of Arnhem land, says that he sees himself as the ‘tongue of the land.’ The land has everything it needs but it cannot speak’ he says. ‘We exist to paint and sing and dance and express its true identity.’
“When I am in my homeland”, says Marawili “I know that my spiritual reality is here. I can see what is happening in our tribal country, in our land. We have significant ngarra (governance). Living in our country we can see what is happening in the future in a spiritual way.” Here are people who realize in the most profound and authentic sense their vocation as keepers of the space. This culture of his, the oldest living culture on earth, recognises the relationship between the space of country and the spiritual reality of the human being – indeed their very reason for existing, their human vocation. These people know who they are in relation to the ‘country’ (place) they belong to.
The practice of meditation is a path of self knowledge. Through it we understand ourselves as spiritual beings in need of more than material wealth to live fully. As spiritual beings we need space to simply be. In Christian meditation we begin by saying the mantra and eventually we listen to it. Our practice becomes one of listening in the space that the mantra keeps us in. We keep the space of consciousness through our practice and it keeps us, grounded in reality and rooted in the Love that keeps all space. Over time we re-member who we are as our fragmented self becomes integrated in the Self who holds us in being.
The ‘household of God’, the created reality, is one space consisting of a diversity of life. The contemporary over-emphasis on the economy, measured in material wealth, denies the space of the various ecologies that make up the whole earth system. Meditation can be a bridge between economy and ecology. Through the regular practice of meditation our consciousness becomes healed of the split. We come to realize that economy and ecology must exist together in harmony derived as they are from the one Source.
Meditation reminds us that our prosperity is to be found in the spiritual capital of knowing who we really are and how we might live in balance for the whole earth community. As we become more conscious so we live out our human vocation as keepers of the space; the space of creation that also keeps us. Ultimately we become that space in which God finds rest as we, more and more, rest in God who sees all creation as ‘very good’.
Sermons & Reflections from the Rector and others
THE BALANCE POINT
The Assistant Priest, Rev'd Rebecca Newland, has a weekly blog where she reflects on spiritual disciplines including the practise of silence and contemplative living. She also occasionally writes about social, environmental and political issues. For those who are interested please click on this link below: