Archive for the ‘all-age faith’ Category

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Surviving the adventure Aslan sends

August 25, 2020

This breathtakingly beautiful piece of photography – a silhouette with golden tinges of sinking sun defining the presence of the lion against a deep dark, and the whole form of the animal still also a mystery – calls to mind a favourite scene from The Chronicles of Narnia.

In The Horse and his Boy – the third book in CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, there is a scene right near the end of the narrative journey in which the orphan runaway boy called Shasta is walking in the dark, his part in the grand mission of saving a city accomplished, but himself, now alone and at a loss for what will become of him. And there comes beside him a voice – the reader knows immediately that this voice will turn out to be Aslan, the Great Lion. But Shasta does not recognise it. He does not yet know that he knows Aslan. The conversation provides a retrospective of the key scenes of the story, and then collects together the meaning, and reveals the identity and presence of the Great Lion through the narrative.

“Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world.”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. and then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the Tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since had had anything to eat.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.

“There was only one lion.” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two lions the first night, and -”

“There was only one, but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.”

And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comfroted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you as you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

“Who are you?” asked Shasta.

“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.

This unfolding revelation upon revelation, the meeting, the knowing, as the mysterious breath

becomes a voice – becomes a form – becomes one who knows –

becomes one who has carried and rescued and protected and guided and empowered Shasta.

This beautifully prompts the reader to think of how a mysterious, present, but selfless God might relate to a young person – indeed to any human. Not as a heavy hand steering a captain’s wheel; not as an instructor ordering directions; not as one behind a control panel, but as one who shapes lives from alongside, without having to be seen or known, without needing to control. I wonder if this image of God is comforting or confronting for us?

Certainly, Lewis means us to think more creatively about the way a Cosmos-Maker might interact with a complex and beloved cosmos. The invitation to magnify our imaginations, relinquish second guessings, and simplistic one step, linear cause and effect divinations is a healthy antidote to anxious pieties that fret over finding [capital T] The [capital W] Will of God. And a necessary defence against the power grasping conspiracies theories of apocalpytic determinism, plotting events crudely on a schema spun from some spiritual playbook.

The Aslan of Lewis’ Narnia – an imperfect image of God for sure – nevertheless challenges us to make intellectual and imaginative room for God to be free, alive, adventurous – and to be more deeply free, more definitively alive and more daringly adventurous than humans are.

Turning aside from Narnia to scripture for a moment, if there is one non-negotiable biblical theology, it is the theology of Love. God is Love. God Loves and calls us to Love.

Love is always free and dynamic and risky.

*

The past 4 years have had many major plot twists, but about a month ago, I had a week in which a series of plot twists came so fast it was hard trying to keep up with what was happening in my own life, let alone keep my significant others in the loop of where i might be living, and how i might be earning a living and who i might be living with – or whether indeed there was any provision for any of living to happen.

In the midst of updating my eldest son who lives 6 hours and at that time stage three restrictions away, i tried to give a sense that, although there were a pile-up of adverse outcomes to report, there were still lines of possibility cast that may (although in the end didn’t) provide some equilibrium.

In this moment, he listened and then responded:

“Yep, I guess it’s take the adventure Aslan sends us then.”

This phrase – a favourite quote which appears in several places across the Narnia Series – is one that I used to encourage a robust and courageous faith in my sons, to expect God to be wild and undomesticated, surprising and beyond our control or comprehension.

And here my son was – serving it back to me. I was accosted by this grace and heartened by his apt word.

Yes indeed. Of all the understandings of God i might have offered in the faith formation of young lives in my care, I am most glad God has been revealed as an adventure sender.

Still, how shall i survive this – the adventure that Aslan is sending me? Walking, like Shasta, alone and lost in the dark, my purpose spent, shall i wait for the breath, then the voice. The Horse and His Boy is a story of secrets and hidden identities, of unknown stories and of their uncovering. There are in the unfolding of the story many revelations in which characters come to know their true selves, and be seen and known by others for who they really are, and behind all of these uncoverings is the revelation of Aslan – seen though unknown in many forms by some, and known though unseen by others.

How will i hold my story? Defined as unlucky and abandoned and spent as Shasta believed his story was?

Or dare I let it be re-told in the depth of dark, lucid in outlines of glory struck by the setting sun, that reveal the presence and shaping by a subversive and subtle and surreptitious Loving Breathing Roaring Whispering Power.

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Lacrymosa

June 16, 2014

Grief stricken american soldier; Haktong-ni area of Korea, 28 August 1950

Grief stricken american soldier; Haktong-ni area of Korea, 28 August 1950

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

will I ever be well again?

will I ever be whole?
If I grit my teeth
and stretch and strain
will I attain such a goal?

will I ever be strong again?
will I ever be brave?
If I set my face
and I raise my chin
will I dare to come out of the cave?

will I ever be useful again?
will I ever serve the cause I believe?
If I penitent crawl
and recant it all
will the powers yet grant a reprieve?

will I ever be normal again?
will I ever come close?
if I paint my face blank
and sing the same tune
will I strike a convincing pose?

will I ever belong again?
did I ever belong before?
we are born in the like
of the God spurned and killed
and our souls with each other still war

will I ever be real again?
no – not any more real than this
for I breathe in the atoms
of rocks and of waves
and the wind that stirred the abyss

oh, Christ of the whole
the ravaged, yet real
your used flesh and cast aside bones
your sick’ning death warns
of our terrible selves
and yet, reconciles all it owns

all you assumed
is somehow redeemed
in this murderous plot of deceit?
Can our streams of bitterly
acidly tears
no longer sting but pour sweet?

Yes – when shed for another’s pain
singing laments lacrymose –
of those locked out and locked up and locked in
those crushed and crunched in cathedrals of spin
those non-conforming non-compus non-grata
enigmatically ensconced in statistics and data
those not on the black and white-pink or blue end
those on the spectrum where the colours and categories blend
those invisible, vulnerable, valuable freaks
ignored or condemned when culture speaks –

If such sweet tears upon your cheeks stain
they be shed like Christ’s blood, for those.

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Repenting on Trinity Sunday – a thousand bad kids talks and other terrible ‘trinitarian’ sins

June 15, 2014

SMITFsunlight

God beyond our imaginings and present to us, more near than we know,

We repent of reducing you to an idea.

We repent of breaking the second commandment.

We repent of calling you ‘like’ anything you have made

like an apple, an egg, a triangle, 
like ice,

like a cord of three strands, like a ponytail*

We repent of these thousand terrible ‘children’s talk’ object lessons.

We repent of our great sin – objectifying you.

We repent this day in which we see how our theology forms us:

 as we have brazenly objectified God,

so we have issued ourselves with license to objectify others.

We rejoice in the deliverance from binary locks

that your trinitarian self brings our imaginations,

and yet there is still much to repent.

We repent of our mis-shapen doctrines,

pressed from tri-level politics:

Our hierarchies, our patriarchies,

our ecclesial castes, our idealised family structures.

We repent of the elite Father,

merchant middle-class Son,

transient slave Spirit.

We repent of all the times we have said

‘Trinity is a hard thing to understand’

and added another stumbling block before one another,

before our children,

implying that they should understand you

and yet not offering the faith that they can,

as if you had not your very self already revealed.

We repent of making of you an intellectual challenge,

that we might feel clever,

of pretending you are a science to be measured like stars

and hypothesised like philosophy –

and then all your complexity reduced again

to five minutes of thinking about an orange.

We repent of forsaking scripture.

We repent of abandonning the stories you have given us

and replacing them with points and propositions

and proofs and prolegomena.

We repent of abandonning the stories

in which you entwine your call, your questions, your challenge,

your care,
 your suffering, your solidarity and your otherness

perfectly and accessibly.

Let us not forsake who you are – real, revealed and revealing still.

Let is not forsake true trinitarian life in you.

Through our repentance show us doorways to living truly:

let us find and know and follow your trinity

in doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly.

Let us find and know and follow your trinity in faith, hope and love

*http://www.christiancrafters.com/trinity.html Yes, there really is someone who has attempted to explain the trinity with ponytail. Obviously, I don’t recommend it.

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Resurrection Beauty

April 22, 2014

Image

all beauty breaks forth

breaks the force of containment

contains the force of life

and bursts out in brilliance

at first light

at first too bright,

too beautiful

for our eyes

our brains cannot bear it

neither beauty nor the truth

the empty case

is all we see

as we but blink and stare

we cannot see

at first what is –

we don’t see

our eyes fall upon it

not as what it is in reality

in beauty

but only as

not what we expected

in negativity

how prone we are

to see less than

what is real

the young man prophesies

‘you will not see beauty here’

go to your homes,

to your beaches

in your labours

to your towns

in your isolation

to your roads

in your conversation

to your hiding places

in your fear

to your tables

in your breaking bread

and there

all beauty will break forth

will break the force of your containment

containing the force of life

pouring forth upon you

and pouring you out

back out on to the road

out of the boat

out to the mountains

out of your doubt

all beauty breaking forth

in resurrection returns

bidding you look again

bidding you see

not the shadow, the chasm,

the cave, the cove

but he

beauty

in your ordinary

beauty defined in love

verified by wounds

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Between Ugliness and Beauty

April 19, 2014

This year for Lent I gave up beauty.

I’m a vegan, so giving up meat or dairy or chocolate is a non-event for me.

About 10 years ago, I took a vow of simplicity in regards to my wardrobe and personal grooming, so wearing black and no makeup are also my regular disciplines.

Reichert, Crucifixion vii, 1991

Reichert, Crucifixion vii, 1991

The straight-forward obvious Lenten fasts don’t make much impact. While I was puzzling over what to give up for Lent, one cheeky fellow traveller suggested I might give up discipline and self denial.

But this year I gave up beauty. Not being beautiful, but observing and paying attention to beauty.

Of course, it is impossible to remove all beauty from the environment. But I have closed my eyes and my heart to it as an intentional focus for this season. And I have taken up a text book on ugliness, and studied it throughout this season, forcing my eyes upon and filling my mind with the images of the grotesque, the unseemly, the plain and unbecoming,the tragic, the macabre and the repulsive.

I took Umberto Eco’s book ‘On Ugliness’ as my study guide, and meditated on the art and literature it offers as examples. It hasn’t been pleasant.

Grunewald’s Christ covered in thorns has mesmerised me – almost to the point of a strange comfort. The ugliness of extreme pain, of every nerve pinched and every node pressured and every surface of skin scoured and scourged raw, the soul stretched to snapping point and the rising floods of acid poison that turn a tide of torture.

Grunewald, The Crucifixion (detail), 1515

Grunewald, The Crucifixion (detail), 1515

 

I have drunk in not only many of the ugly images of the crucifixion, but also the repulsive gallery of our nation’s injustices and the appalling panorama of global poverty and power. An acrid stomach-churning view.

And I have taken up that other text book of the grotesque and terrifying – the Bible; reading its texts of despair, lamentation, depravity. It gilds no lily, but tells it like it is. Don’t try to follow it as a self improvement manual or a better homes and gardens guide.

Those who know me well realise that this is no shallow ‘toe in the water; simulation game for me. I have known plenty of life’s ugliness both from within and without. A gruelling pilgrimage lined with mysteriously placed gifts, choosing life, choosing love, choosing beauty has come in the form of a dare to stop and open a gift in the dark chasms of pain.

So this ‘ugliness fast’ is a retracing of a path. The path of following Jesus. The path to redemption. The path of grace and courage to look at people and landscapes and actions that are unpalatable, unattractive, ugly with the  scars, ugly with hate, ugly with fear, ugly with pain, ugly with threats. The call to ugliness starts us on a path of looking at evil and not making excuses. If I can’t do that, I can’t self examine. If I can’t look at evil without papering over or flinching a concession, I can’t repent. And I can’t forgive. Just like Jesus I have to be able to look at evil and recognise it. To say ‘Forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing…but I do; and I ask forgiveness on their behalf.’

About 10 years ago I walked a similar path in looking at my own face. In my early 30s I was still a compulsive self-harmer, drawing blood almost as often as I caught my reflection in the mirror, the urge to deface my own visage overwhelming any rational logic.  I shaved my head. And I set about the task of actually being able to look myself in the face. In our selfie-obsessed culture, some might find this hard to believe. Or perhaps we realise that selfies are a way of not really looking ourselves in the eye, but filtering ourselves through the ‘safety’ of a lens – a digital shield between us and reality.

It took two years of this spiritual discipline of shaving my head for me to really find it comfortable to look at my own face. And then one day I realised I had stopped harming myself. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d pointed the blade at myself. After five years (I know, five years; miracle healing doesn’t mean ‘quick-fix’)  I had come to love my bumps and wrinkles, my enormous teeth and wonky eyebrows, and also my fiery eyes and the smile that I can’t stop monopolising my jaw. I stopped shaving my head, and I have let my hair grow out wildly however it wants, as a symbol of the freedom I found in accepting what was in the mirror as neither ugly nor beautiful, but good. Along this path of staring at ugliness, I looked squarely at a lot of ugly characters lurking behind my eyes. I learned not to look away, not to flinch, but to fix their gaze and say ‘Forgive them: they don’t know what they’re doing’ as well. This Lent has retraced those steps, and now the discipline of eyes filled with ugliness comes soon to an end.

 

jarClose to the end of Lent a friend sent me an image which heralded the impending end of my ugliness fast. It was a beautiful image, and yet it embodied the seam of beauty through the contours of brokenness.’Full of gold that radiates through only because of the brokenness’ was the tag line that accompanied it.

Beauty – even as I whole heartedly embrace it again – will always be this kind of beauty. A beauty framed in flaws. A beauty that can only be viewed by those willing to look at broken things.

Let it start tomorrow with looking at a grave stone cracked open, golden gleaming light pouring forth.

Let my eyes flicker open again and see beauty anew.

 

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Good friday confusion

April 18, 2014

Image 

this bloody man

this strung-up, beaten,
defeated,leaking, howling man

his death row, death-throe gibberish still confusing me:
‘forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing’
how can that be good-friday theology?

Don’t you mean ‘forgive them because

they have confessed and repented

with a contrite heart

and a willing obedience to change their behaviour

in conformity with your holy laws?’
no?

Over all the comos
you bleed all over us
your boundaries all torn and transgress’d
quicker than we can mop you up
you make more bleeding mess

if you are god and human
if you are innocent but convicted guilty
if you are manly yet ravaged like a defenceless woman
if you are wise yet inarticulate
if you are abused yet forgive
if you are holy yet god-forsaken

are not all our sortings, all our categories,
all our wrongs and rights made strangely to bleed into one another?

the way a dead-end, the truth is belied,
and the greatest of these – the life – has died
serious scribes joke and jeer
atoning priests accuse
passers by just poke and peer
see how Romans deal with Jews?

the sky is black in height of day
the dead rise from their graves
the executor salutes the damned
one bandit bandies brave
one thief in paradise is sent
and Son of God is hell-bent

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Who are the faithful?

March 22, 2014

Image

Here at Multivocality, I am interested in exploring different voices, not all of them necessarily my own. It stretches me, in terms of intellect, compassion, imagination and vision as I seek the kingdom of God, to try and explore things from perspectives that are not the ‘party line’. In short, I’d rather write some things that might be arguable ‘wrong’ but thereby grow in understanding of  ways to express truth.

I have been thinking recently about how people who think of themselves as the faithful might actually seem like they lack faith to those who are typically identified as ‘unbelievers’, because of the christian culture reflex of trying to assert a positivist position of certitude. This little piece is an adventure in looking through a different lens, of ‘faith-flipping’ and asking ‘what would actual “Faith” look like?’

There they go – the every-day desperate ones.

Desperate to win, desperate to assert. Clamouring for a voice, Struggling against the sense that they are going under, and flailing about in an effort to keep head above the water. To keep a profile, and to keep safe borders. All that’s been built, all that has been worked for is under threat and and must be protected, maintained, buttressed with greater force. More space, more territory, more attention, more of the market share must be acquired. Launching new initiatives with the right hand and anchoring their right to success and entitlement to win in traditions of a privileged history.

There they go. Everyday, the faithless existence of desperation. They preach, they blog, they publish, they petition, they promote. They talk much of God, they are scandalised at efforts to righteousness, yet hammer hard the need to earn faith, have faith, invest in the kingdom, sounding like desperate economists of industry. They have nailed the market, and they have just about crucified teh gospel.

But look there.

There they go, in the midst, the everyday faithful.

Those who throw themselves defenceless upon life as it is, without a claim of authority or certainty. They say ‘I don’t know..’ and wonder a little. They say ‘Could it be…perhaps’ and keep listening. Or they switch off the distant argument and choose instead to love what is before them. They have no system, not mechanism, no proof, beyond the breath they have drawn in and expelled with a sigh for grief of a lived one gone, or a huff of exertion to the task, or a kiss of blessing over the forehead of their child, or a exhalation centring the body  in the deep peace of sustained breathing, or a fittingly silent prayer of solidarity for the voiceless.

They may barely know. They may barely know anything. They may barely know the name of God, and yet live entirely dependent upon faith that the world will keep turning, that each new sunrise will come without their effort, and face it in humble gratitude. They may barely know of the unseen kingdom and yet yearn for its justice and peace.

They do not know, but they question. They do not know, but they live what they can on the terms of faith, in hope, on a line cast into the depths beyond sight, with patience and time yet to speak its vindication.

They have no doctrine of inerrancy, infallibility; they know too well that such a reef, though pure it may be in itself, once looked upon by human eyes is subject to all manner of clouded cataract, unnerved glaucoma, misshapen astigmatism. All they hold to is held without ambit claim or assertive normativity. Just by faith.

Who are the faith-full? Who, really, walks by faith?

How might I walk in faith in the things that I faith are good and beautiful and true?

I have thrown all my wagers upon the God of Jesus.

How will living be a faith in God?

Are not the faithful those who have given up the no risk, nailed down, watertight, contracts of safety and certainty?

Are not the faithful those who have built arks and escaped to wander in deserts, hungry and thirsty like Noah and Moses? Are  not the faithful those who fall pregnant in old age or in virginal youth and live as if such a thing is of the living God – a blessing, not a curse, like Sarah and Mary?

Are not the faithful those who, secure in the traditions of their ancestors, accept blindness and disorientation on the roadside and recover to sleep with the enemy, like Paul?

This is not to eschew intellect – but to stir a faith-ing intellect that searches beyond the too-easy logic.

And not to eschew commitment – but to embrace a faith-ing commitment that signs up to love, not just to like-mindedness.

Who, then are the faithful?

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

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Love will have the day

March 18, 2014

I cannot claim to know

Too much I should not say

Don’t see where this will go

But here’s what I dare pray

 

All will be well 

All will be well

All will be well

As far as I can tell

 

Here’s the hope I hold

Here’s the faith I bring

Here let grace unfold

Here let mercy sing

 

All will be well

All wil be well

All will be well

As far as I can tell

 

Find the life that heals

Find the life that mends

Live the life that feels

Live the life that spends

 

Find the life that gives

Find the life that pours

Find the life of grace

Find the life that’s yours

 

All will be well

All will be well

 All will be well

As far as I can tell

 

Love will have the day

Love will have the day

Love will have the day

As far as I can say.

Image

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Ash Wednesday Sacred Space for Average Households

March 5, 2014

junkBegin your season of Lent as a household by creating a (portable) space that will remind you of the invitation to travel with Jesus and his followers across the ages through the intersecting stories and symbols of life and death and new life. Use a tray or platter to define the space, so it can be placed in the middle of your common table as a focus, or moved easily to one side, or another space as necessary over the whole season of Lent. This can serve as a place for leaving short written prayers, or simply one word reminders (names, places, issues) and to light tea-lights for prayers.

Some options:

1)    Make a collection of small bits of junk: pipecleaners, wire, plasticene, sticks, bolts and nuts, springs, hinges, buttons, the broken innards of clocks/radios/mp3s, straws, cardboard scraps, plastic scraps, fabric…

Form this into a scene of some kind from your imaginations and concerns and views of the world.

 2)    Use pieces of charcoal to write or draw symbols and words of Lent on a piece of sandpaper. Tear the edges of the sand paper to ‘roughen’ the boundaries. Leave some crumbled charcoal and dust clumps on the sandpaper.

 3)   Read the confession prayer as you construct your sacred space. Often there are one or two people in any given group who find words more helpful than tactile activity. You’ll know who those ones are. Don’t compel anyone to either read or to construct, but allow people to gravitate to the part of the task that will engage them well. The aim is not for everyone to have to do the same thing, but to do something together, in which each person has a part.)

 *

We are made from solid stuff

We can list our molecules and decode our DNA

But we cannot make ourselves

God alone is our creator and life giver

 

We are easily broken,

We burn out and we crumble to ash and to dust

And we cannot save ourselves

Christ alone is our deliverer and healer

 

We are able to know both good and evil

We can choose between our desires

But we cannot fully resist evil or get rid of its lure

The Lord alone is the holy one who defeats death with love.

 

We are called to follow Jesus and walk in his steps

But only forgiven and forgivingly

Only falteringly, and only together

The Spirit alone makes us one, gives what we need and comforts our steps.

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the first twenty times your heart gets broken

December 9, 2013

Cranach the Elder, The Good Thief, 1501-02the first twenty times your heart gets broken

it feels as if you will die

and then even worse than the pain

feels the fact that you haven’t died

and are still living

yet

broken in bits

but after number twenty

or perhaps twenty one

or twenty two

around there somewhere

you become accustomed to the rhythm

the break, the bleed, the mess,

the seizing up, the sting, the raw,

the wound, the weep, the scab:

the numb,

and if you are lucky

the heal.

and it becomes painfully yet manageably familiar.

you know what to do

what to expect

you know you won’t bleed out completely

you know your blood isn’t that thin

it is ironically strong and thick with love

and clots well

doesn’t it just?

but every so often in the next one hundred breaks

there are odd times that the rhythm doesn’t follow

you just plain break

and there you are

open and exposed

jagged edges

out and in

no safe place to lay your hand to hold the pain

no safe place for another to offer a steady hand of comfort

Yet…if you must be so stretched out vulnerable

and pierced

it may be that you look to one side

and there see one

like you

bloodied and broken

heart betrayed, besmeared, bereft

and it may be that you breathe out a prayer

to die

but let it be to die with this one

for he dies alongside

and so in his death and yours

to meet

and in meeting

be met by Love.