Archive for February, 2004
Maybe it’s just been a busy seminar but that first reading exhausted me. It feels like high pressure, high action, high energy Christianity. Listen to it: Nothing; Only; All; Everything. Running; Captured; Strain; Racing; Upwards; Prize. Perfect; perfect; perfect.
It’s quite beautiful in its own way, quite enticing, certainly inspiring but to be honest I’m not sure I’ve got it in me this morning.
So the gospel stands as something of a relief. At least at first sight. What the gospel seem to require of us are passive virtues. To taste right. To shine bright. If the first reading is all action—what we do—this seems to be simply about who we are. Not doing but being. That is a relief!
But the degree of conversion called for runs if anything deeper. Not just to look busy but to be the salt that gives the world its savour. Not just to have our eyes on the prize but to make it possible for the world to see at all. To be not just do-gooders but the very reason in this world God gets praised or despised.
How do we get to be tasty disciples—bright shiny people? There’s a whole theology and spirituality at stake in that question and the categories of being and doing aren’t too helpful. But let me take a paragraph from Ignatius’s book and leave us with that. What makes all the difference is generosity—the willingness to be changed—eagerness even. Eagerness to share the life of Jesus here and now where it might lead.
February 29th, 2004
There’s a serious contradiction between our two readings today. If I might paraphrase, the first says choose life and the second choose death. That’s pretty stark. The first is offering a long life, a long stay in the land, and long prosperity. The gospel can only offer pain and death but with them companionship … if anyone wants to be a follower of mine … let him renounce himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.
Renunciation, loss, and the cross make no sense at all apart from Jesus and apart from his story. A cross for you and a cross for me would be blasphemous if there hadn’t been a cross for Jesus. What we need to ponder this Lent is why Jesus himself ended up on his cross. Where did the pain in his life come from? Why did it end for him the way it did? Was it because he chose death or because he chose life?
February 26th, 2004
Isn’t it a relief to know that, where God is concerned, not all change is instant? It is to me anyway. Otherwise I’d be looking at my life and wondering hard. This bit has been tidied up nicely. That bit I’m proud of. But over there, hidden behind the other stuff, well those bits are better left unmentioned.
Truth is we aren’t exactly the people we’d like to be. Worse than that—we aren’t the people we feel we should be.
The other gospels—and elsewhere Mark’s the worst culprit—paint a picture of change, of healing, of transformation that’s altogether too instant for comfort. You have a withered hand: stretch it out! You are lame: stand up tall! You are troubled in spirit: watch those demons flee!
Healing like that speaks so strongly of the power of God but reflects poorly upon our unhealed, unchanged, and untransformed lives. Have we missed our chance? Have we lacked in faith? Have we been blind about our blindness? Maybe there’s a touch of all three in all our lives.
But today’s gospel is the story for us. Most change takes time. Most healing involves trial and error. Most transformation we have to grow into.
So if right now our vision is blurry and we can’t see the people for the trees—take heart – we are in the middle of things and Jesus is going to go on touching our eyes and our lives until we see the way of things as plain as day. For as long as it takes…
February 18th, 2004
Why do we celebrate two Greek brothers from the 9th Century as patrons of Christian Europe? Because they pushed the gospel where it hadn’t been before and because they weren’t above trying something completely new to get it there. Even abandoning the language of faith. They wanted to speak the word of God in a language people could understand—in their case Slavonic rather than Latin. To let God speak, in a familiar tongue, new words to a new people. And they translated liturgy and bible to do so—against enormous opposition. But God must have liked the idea because their words bore fruit despite all the power plays that pursued them… A great example of inculturation.
Inculturation. I want to mention another example and let it pose the possibility of a third …
Why is this month called February? … In the pagan past this day, the 14th February, was celebrated in Rome as a feast in honour of the goddess Juno, Juno Februata in particular—hence February. Februata means fevered but the fever of this feast wasn’t illness but the fever of love. Juno Februata was a fertility goddess and the celebration a fertility rite in which men and women paired off by drawing lots for a wild night of revelry, debauchery and lust. Sounds much better than our version. And of course that’s because, when Rome became Christian, you couldn’t have a pagan fertility rite going on once a year without comment. The Church tidied the whole thing up, hiding Juno under St Valentine’s toga as it were. Gone was the revelry and the lusty drawing of lots was transformed into the sending of chaste love notes. Another example of inculturation, though a damp one.
The gospel we hear today has detailed instructions for how to bring the good news to a waiting world. The harvest is rich. But the instructions need inculturating. How do we honour the language of our contemporaries as Cyril and Methodius did and speak to them words of good news and hope?
One thing should be obvious on a day like this. Our culture is obsessed with romance, with love at first sight, love lost, love regained. Half the songs we hear are about love and all but a fraction of the rest are about sex. Is this a language completely beyond us? Have we to abandon Valentine to the pagan gods? Or can we learn that language, recognise its riches, and speak in it words of freedom and joy, sing in it the many songs of our God?
February 14th, 2004
Why do we come on retreat? Maybe we think it will do us good. Maybe like Jesus and the apostles we are exhausted with the demands of those around us and need a rest. Maybe like Solomon we are embarking on a new venture and seeking guidance. Or maybe our reasons are even now half hidden even from ourselves.
Have you found what you were looking for? Or has it been a surprise? Both our readings today speak of the surprise. Jesus is looking for a rest – and he gets one there in the boat – but it isn’t long before he surprised by the crowd who want even more of what he has to give.
Solomon thinks he will handle God with sacrifices in high places – and instead he meets an unexpected God he cannot deal with in the naked honesty of his dream. With no holocausts to protect him he has to speak from his heart and be open about his real need. And God blesses him with the gift of his real need – a gift of discernment – a wise heart to understand his people.
I think Jesus gets a similar gift in our gospel. He learns something when he sees the crowd waiting for him. He learns something about need and something about hope. He is given the heart to understand his people. More accurately he is given the guts to understand them. That phrase ‘took pity on them’ describes the turning over of the stomach, the churning in the bowels, when we see and know and have no option but to respond.
So where are we at the tail end of our retreat? Have we met a surprising God? Have we encountered the honesty of our need? Have we been blessed with wise hearts to understand our own people? Or has the gift been even more of a surprise?
February 7th, 2004