Reflection on 5th Sunday in Lent: 29th March 2020

Unbind and Let Go

“Lazarus is dead,” Jesus tells the disciples. It’s not hard to imagine the questions that might be running through the minds of the disciples and the hearts of Mary and Martha. They are the same kind of questions we ask ourselves and each other whenever life is interrupted and changed in ways we do not want, when circumstances show us just how difficult, fragile, and beautiful life really is. “Why? How could this happen? What’s next for me? Is this an ending or a beginning? Could it be both? How do I move forward? How do I make sense of what has happened? What will life be like now? Is there life after this? Why didn’t God do something?” Every time life sets before us those kind of questions we are reminded that we live with more questions than answers, and the answers we do have no longer seem to carry the weight and authority they once did. Our lives are filled with unanswered questions.

The unanswered questions of life tend to leave us confused and disappointed. Disappointment is always wrapped up in and bound by our unmet expectations. That’s where Mary and Martha are in today’s gospel. They are disappointed and confused. “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Our ‘if only’ longings are ultimately about the past, our dislike of what is or our fear of something new.  We want to preserve what was and keep things the way they’ve always been. Almost always they come from a place of sorrow and loss, regret, failure, or disappointment. The illusion of “if only” wraps around our lives like grave clothes. We use it to try to bind up what has fallen apart, preserve what is decaying, and tie us to what has been lost.

Jesus does not offer answers or explanations to Mary and Martha, or to us. Instead, he uses our confusion as “an agency for transformation” (David Whyte). Confusion asks us to reassess ourselves and our inner world. It is the first step in freeing us from misguided assumptions. It opens our eyes to a deeper way of seeing. “Unbind and let go.”  Every time we refuse to live an “if only” life, we unbind the past and let it go. Unbinding and letting go of the past are not a rejection but an offering. We do not reject the past, throw it away, or deny its value and importance to us. Instead, we free it to be made new, to be given new life, to become a new creation.

Michael Marsh. Adapted

Reflection on 4th Sunday in Lent: 22nd March 2020

How do we see?

To the fearful eye, all is threatening. When you look toward the world in a fearful way, all you see and concentrate on are things that can damage and threaten you. The fearful eye is always besieged by threat.

To the greedy eye, everything can be possessed. A greedy person can never enjoy what they have, because they are always haunted by that which they do not yet possess. Greed generates a driven and atrophied possessiveness. Greed can never engage presence. Having has become the sinister enemy of being.

To the judgmental eye, everything is closed in definitive frames. The judgmental eye sees things in terms of lines and squares. It is always excluding and separating, and therefore it never sees in a compassionate or celebratory way.

To the loving eye, everything is real. Kathleen Raine, a Scottish poet, says that unless you see a thing in the light of love, you do not see it at all. Love is the light in which we see light. Love is the light in which we see each thing in its true origin, nature, and destiny. If we could look at the world in a loving way, then the world would rise up before us full of invitation, possibility and depth. The loving eye can even coax pain, hurt, and violence toward transfiguration and renewal.

Vision is central to your presence and creativity. To recognize how you see things can bring you self-knowledge and enable you to glimpse the wonderful treasures your life secretly holds.

John O’Donohue : Anam Cara Adapted.

How do we see the reality of our living with the coronavirus in our midst?
Can we say with the blind man in today’s gospel: “I was blind but now I see.”

“As life seeks out its new normal, I pray that we are able to apply the lessons of this exceptionally barren Lenten journey to redefine “normal” so that it includes more gratitude, appreciation, service, mercy and joy. Returning to our ordinary patterns of life is something that we all hope will occur very soon. Let us bring the memories of these moments with us into the future so that we better value and cherish what may have become under-appreciated opportunities of experiencing God’s presence in every aspect of our lives. This disease will not get the best of us; rather, we pray that we will use it to bring out the best in us.”

Archbishop Wilton Gregory. Washington. Adapted

Reflection on 3rd Sunday of Lent: 15th March 2020

If we knew the gift of God

We all start our lives with what we think we want and we rush out to get it, trying to fill an empty hole inside us. It’s been said that the joy of buying something new lasts until we take it home and open the box! All the fun is in the buying of it but we then ask ourselves, “Am I any happier, am I any more now that I have this new thing?” But still we continue to rush out to buy more and more, and each time always thinking, “This will do it, this will fill the emptiness, this will take away my inner thirst.”

The work of mature religion is to lead us beyond what we think we want to what we really need. The woman in today’s gospel has come to the well because she needs water. Jesus tries to lead her, step by step, beyond what she thinks she wants and to help her see that water is just the symbol of what she really needs. He’s not talking about water. He’s talking about Spirit. He starts by making her aware of her own thirst, hunger and need. Then he leads to a rather profound theological reflection on the universality and availability of God. He refers to the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans, both groups claiming to have the truth. Jesus tells her that the time is coming when both groups will realise that they missed the point. If we don’t experience the Spirit, if we don’t find the living water, then it doesn’t matter which group we belong to. No group-joining or group-belonging can substitute for inner experience. He uses the most wonderful metaphor for this inner experience: ‘a fountain within you bubbling up unto eternal life.’

Spiritual knowing, spiritual cognition is always really re-cognition. It’s the realisation that “I already knew this. In those moments ‘it isn’t as if something more is given to us but a curtain opens and the infinite love that’s always being given to us touches us.’ (James Finley) But then we’ll say, “O but that’s too good to be true.” Jesus said to the woman very directly, “If you but knew the gift of God.” Many of us don’t. From our very beginning every one of us is the beloved of God. That is the water bubbling up from within us but we don’t dare to believe it. We shout out, “Lord I am not worthy.” The good news is that worthiness is not even the issue. Who is worthy? When we stop seeking our own worthiness, that’s when the fountain begins to bubble and we begin to know the gift of God and that it’s all gift, and it’s all free and all we can do is learn to enjoy it. And that changes everything.

Richard Rohr. Homilies

Reflection on 2nd Sunday of Lent: 8th March 2020

Do not be afraid

Immediately before Jesus takes Peter, John, and James up the mountain he tells them and the others that he must suffer, die, and be resurrected on the third day. He will tell them this again after they come down from the mountain. What happened on that mountain top took place between Jesus’ two statements of impending change. It is little wonder that they wanted to stay there. Maybe the transfiguration was about preparing and helping the disciples live through the coming change. Maybe that’s why every year the transfiguration is the gospel we hear on the Second Sunday of Lent, a season that focuses on change.

In the midst of change many voices begin to speak to us: some are outside of us and some are from within. The story of the transfiguration says there is only one voice to listen to. From the bright cloud overshadowing Peter, James, and John, God says:“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; Listen to him.” And what does Jesus say to us? – “Get up and do not be afraid.” (The words ‘Get up’ are the same words Matthew uses in other passages when speaking about resurrection )

Change often brings about fear – the fear of losing what we love, value, and desire. We all face changes that cause us to stumble and fall, paralyse us or leave us overwhelmed. Jesus comes to us in whatever circumstances of change we find ourselves; he touches us, and says, “Get up. Be raised.” It’s the promise that though life has changed, it has not ended. Somehow new life is hidden in the midst of change, even when we cannot see it or do not believe it. Whatever changes come upon us they do not have the final word.

Michael Marsh

Last week we spoke about Lent as being an invitation to take time to reconnect with whatever renews our spirit and deepens our experience of love yet doing so in a way that allows our perception of love to be changed. In those mountaintop moments of enlightenment we will experience God as “a Presence that protects us from nothing but unexplainably sustains us in all things. This is the mystery of the cross.”

James Finley

Reflection on 1st Sunday of Lent: 1st March 2020

A Path of Rediscovery

Today’s Gospel story follows immediately on from Jesus’ baptism when Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was revealed: ‘This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ In the wilderness, the evil one challenges this reality: ‘If you are the Son of God…’ We, too, are tempted to doubt our divine identity. We can so easily find our identity in what we do, in what we have, in what other people think of us, instead of in who we are.

Do we approach the coming weeks of Lent as an invitation to spend time in the ‘desert’ of silence, rediscovering our divine identity? What if our Lenten practice this year is to reclaim and re-treasure that which is of ultimate importance and infinite value – people, relationships, justice and compassion, forgiveness, beauty and time to reconnect with whatever renews our spirit and deepens our experience of love? As we reclaim and re-treasure we somehow get ourselves back. We’re more whole, more complete.

We begin Lent by blessing and being blessed by the ashes of the palms used in last year’s Palm Sunday celebration. Do we see this as a ‘doom and gloom’ experience, or do we come filled with awe and wonder, knowing what God can do with dust?

So let us be marked not for sorrow.
And let us be marked not for shame.
Let us be marked not for false humility
or for thinking we are less than we are
but for claiming what God can do
within the dust, within the dirt,
within the stuff of which the world is made.

Jan Richardson: Blessing the Dust

Various sources including M. Marsh and R.Rohr

Reflection on 7th Sunday: 23rd February 2020

Perfection is the ability to include imperfection

“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Many will hear Jesus’ words as an impossibility. They will hear his words as a demand for moral perfection: a demand to always say the right words, always make the correct choice, always behave appropriately. Such demands leave no room for mistakes, brokenness, or uncertainty and consequently, no room for mercy, forgiveness or second chances. If that is how we hear Jesus’ words the Christian life quickly becomes overwhelming and intimidating and our humanity becomes a barrier to God rather than a means. Perfection will seem unrealistic. “After all, we are only human,” will become the justification for how we live.

Perfection is not the elimination of imperfection, as we think. Divine perfection is, in fact, the ability to recognise, forgive, and include imperfection, just as God does with all of us. Artists throughout the ages have shown their awareness of this reality:

  • Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) or kintsukuroi (“golden repair”) is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The art of kintsugi is related to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for finding beauty in the flawed or imperfect. Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated and often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalising the artifact with new life.
  • Leonard Cohen sings about the crack in everything and that is how the light gets in.

Jesus’ ‘command’ is not so much about becoming something that we are not but about growing up into the fullness of who we already are. That is the perfection to which we are called.

Adapted quotes from R.Rohr and M.Marsh and other sources

Reflection on 6th Sunday: 16th February

Beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing

“We can too easily forget that the law is more about relationships than it is rules. When that happens we’re in grave danger of keeping the rules and losing the relationship.”

M.Marsh

“Laws can inform us but they cannot transform us. Law is a necessary stage one, but if we stay there it actually becomes a stumbling block. It often frustrates the process of transformation by becoming an end in itself. Torah, or Law, is the best and most helpful place to begin but not the best place to stay, and surely not the best place to end.

Juridically, law is an end in itself, absolutely good and necessary for social order. Spiritually, law is a means, not an end at all. What is the law really for? It’s not to make God love us. He does love us and we are powerless to change that one way or another. The purpose of spiritual law is simply to sharpen our awareness of who we are and who God is, so that we can name our insufficiency and, in that same movement, find God’s fullness. Spiritual power is the ability to influence others and events through our very being. Spirituality is a concern for our real inner Source, as opposed to any primary concern for our ‘doing’. Doing will always take care of itself when our being is right.

When telling his Jewish followers to be faithful to their own tradition Jesus strongly distinguished between essentials and non-essentials, and then pushed it even further. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus uses six repetitions of the same phrase: “You have heard it said . . . but I say. . . .” I call this the “yes/and” approach: yes the law, and there is something more, which is the real and deep purpose of that very law. Law is never an end in itself.”

Richard Rohr. Adapted

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Rumi

Reflection on 5th Sunday: 9th February 2020

Become who we are

“Deep spiritual transformation happens primarily in the presence of images. They alone can touch the unconscious. One hundred sermons could never move you to the new place to which a powerful image can move you. And so it is that in our Gospel passage today, as in so many other places in the Gospels, Jesus uses powerful, transformative images, telling us, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” And then he leaves it at that. He doesn’t explain to us what it means; he doesn’t give us instructions. He leaves us to live into the images.” [1]

“Some of us will hear Jesus’ words and think that we need to become something we are not or that we need to get something we do not yet have, or do something that we are not yet doing. That is not, however, what Jesus says. He does not say we should become salt. He says we already are salt. He does not say we are to become light. He says we already are light. We already are what we need to be. We already have what we need.” [2] And we can say this with confidence because we have all been created in the image and likeness of God, who is Love. Love is who we are and who we are still becoming. “How do we find what is supposedly already there? Why should we need to awaken our deepest and most profound selves? And how do we do it? By praying and meditating? By more silence, solitude, and sacraments? Yes to all of the above, but the most important way is to live and fully accept our present reality.” [1]

The more we become aware of who we really are in God, the more our eyes are open to the presence of God in everyone. This is beautifully expressed in the Hindu greeting known as namasté. When two people meet, each person joins both hands together and with respect they bow towards each other, a gesture which means “I bow to the divine in you”, or “The sacred within me salutes the sacred in you.”

[1] Richard Rohr [2] Michael Marsh

There is a light in you that cannot be extinguished.
It is inside you.
It is you.

Neil Donald Walsch

Reflection on The Presentation: 2nd February 2020

The Refiner of Silver

The Feast of the Presentation is at its core a feast of longing. It is longing that is behind Mary and Joseph’s fulfilling the law; it is longing behind Anna’s asceticism; it is longing that is behind Simeon’s piety. Jesus is brought to the temple as the embodiment of his Father’s longing for humanity. Who among us has not had his or her life characterised by expectation, anticipation, longing and waiting? We’ve all stood in that place waiting for life to change, for the grief to go away, for a prayer to be answered, for joy to return, for forgiveness and reconciliation, for clarity about a decision, for meaning and purpose, for healing and new life. We get up each morning, wondering if today is the day and we have to decide whether we will give up or whether we will continue to trust that God is present and working in our lives even if we can’t see or clearly understand how this can be. Like Simeon and Anna do we continue to ‘show up’ and wait for the miracle?

Simeon thought he was waiting for the child to show up but what if it was really God waiting for Simeon? Simeon’s time of waiting– and ours – is a time of transformation. “Waiting is the passionate and contemplative crucible in which new life and spiritual wholeness can be birthed.’

Sue Monk Kidd

In today’s first reading we have a beautiful image of the refiner of silver. There is a story of a woman watching a silversmith at work. As she watched he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, it was necessary to hold it in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot, then she thought again about the scripture verse “He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.” She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on it the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?” He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy – when I see my image in it.”

Adapted: Michael Marsh, Andy Grossman

Reflection on 3rd Sunday: 26th January 2020

The Kingdom of Heaven

Throughout the Gospel accounts, Jesus uses one particular phrase repeatedly: “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Many assume that the Kingdom of Heaven means the place you go when you die—if you’ve been “saved.” But the problem with this interpretation is that Jesus himself specifically contradicts it when he says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (that is, here) and “at hand” (that is, now). You don’t die into it; you awaken into it. Others have equated the Kingdom of Heaven with an earthly utopia. Jesus strongly rejected this meaning. “My kingdom is not of this world”

Author Jim Marion’s suggests that the Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to, but a place you come from. It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place.
The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. These are indeed Jesus’ two core teachings, underlying everything he says and does. To live in this kingdom is to follow him.

The “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of heaven” are Jesus’ primary metaphors for the Eternal Now. He is trying to tell us that there is a way that we can live connected to the Real and to the Eternal in this world. That path is surrendering to the here-and-now, whatever it offers us. It may feel like nothing, like nowhere (now-here), and still it is where everything always happens to us. So be sure to be here now—and not somewhere else! If our minds or hearts are elsewhere, nothing really happens to us that matters or lasts. This consciousness will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us. Words by themselves divide and judge the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is. When we can be present in this way, we will know the Real Presence, we will live in the Kingdom.

Adapted :Cynthia Bourgeault; Richard Rohr