Archive for August, 2003

St Clare

Bear with me… Listen to what theologian and naturalist Annie Dillard has to say about experiencing a total eclipse:
“… I heard screams. People on all the hillsides, including, I think, myself, screamed when the black body of the moon detached from the sky and rolled over the sun. But something else was happening at that same instant, and it was this which made us scream. … The second before the sun went out we saw a wall of dark shadow come speeding at us. We no sooner saw it than it was upon us, like thunder. It roared up the valley. It slammed our hill and knocked us out. It was the monstrous swift shadow cone of the moon. I have since read that this wave of shadow moves at 1800 miles an hour. Language can give no sense of this sort of speed—1800 miles an hour. It was 195 miles wide. No end was in sight—you only saw the edge. It rolled across the land at 1800 miles an hour, hauling darkness like a plague behind it. We saw the wall of shadow coming, and screamed before it hit…
This was the universe about which we have read so much and never before felt: the universe as a clockwork of loose spheres flung at stupefying, unauthorised speeds. How could anything moving so fast not crash …
Less than two minutes later, when the sun emerged, the trailing edge of the shadow cone sped away … coursed down our hill and raced eastward over the plain. … At once the yellow light made the sky blue again. The real world began there. I remember now; we all hurried away. We were born and bored at a stroke. We rushed down the hill. We found our car. We never looked back. It was a general vamoose, and an odd one, for when we left the hill, the sun was still partially eclipsed—a sight rare enough, and one which, in itself, we would probably have driven five hours to see. But enough is enough. One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief.”

Enough is enough. Isn’t that the question Clare and all her kind put to the church, and put to us? How much is enough? Aren’t we all torn somewhere between “All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” and “what do we get for leaving everything to follow you?”
Like an eclipse, Clare’s life … passes before us, unveiling the always present fullness of emptiness … and leaving us wondering—what would be enough for us? What could be real enough, rich enough, ripe enough to seduce us—we who are born and bored at a stroke—seduce us to live, like Clare, face to face with the beauty and glory of Jesus—and not hurry away with a sigh of relief?

August 11th, 2003

Tuesday Week 18 Year I

Readings like the first one put you in a dilemma. They don’t sit easily—at least I hope they don’t sit easily—with what experience and personal history has taught us each about God and our relationship with God. I hope we each know God well enough to have got beyond the fear of opening our mouths lest God press the smite button and blast us to kingdom come.
But who am I kidding—I’m as bad as anyone for forgetting the God I love, the God who loves me, and worshipping instead Miriam’s violent God. It’s always a failure of memory and a failure of trust.
Staying with God—the real God—is like walking on water. All it takes is trust but can you imagine anything more improbable? It takes trust of a tremendous order to put your feet on breaking waves and expect to walk. And yet Peter does.
It takes a fathomless faith to believe that God really is trustworthy when we are assailed from all sides by evil, impostor Gods always sounding so plausible. And yet a lot of the time I do so believe.
But then both Peter and I feel the force of the wind, fright takes us, and down we go—Peter into the wet and I into the dark. But … the hand is always there to lift us back up, Jesus’ hand, familiar and firm, to raise us back where we belong.
What am I saying? Only this: it takes trust to believe God is good, and that trust is always tested by our fear of a vengeful God. We always go under but we are never left alone to sink.
And just in case that all seems like a downhill story of failure after failure—as though we were always getting it wronger and wronger—notice something about this story. When the story begins the only thing the disciples can make of Jesus is that he is some kind of ghost but after Peter’s unwanted baptism they can make an amazing affirmation of faith: ‘Truly’, they say, ‘truly you are the Son of God’.
We learn by sinking. We know God better after doubt swallows trust for a while. Faith grows best when we lose sight of it. And the hand we grasp grows more familiar each time we drown.

August 5th, 2003


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