The Unexpected Wait

The Unexpected Wait

December 10, 2017  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Unexpected Wait

There is a coffee shop in Kuilsrivier, Suzies Coffee Shop. It is quite a journey to get there from the City Centre. Depending on traffic, it can take almost an hour. Journeys like this one, can seem too far, not worth the effort, but sometimes ways that require extra effort, and a long wait are worth the struggle in the end. This coffee shop serves more than coffee to the community, it is also in a way, an incubator of hope. The proprietor, Uncle Willy, has a heart for his community. He and his wife opened the coffee shop in 2012. It began as a small venture and over time, they have built on new sections.

There are several quaint areas to enjoy a cup of coffee or a bite to eat, but there is also a large community room that is space that Uncle Willy shared he hoped people in the community would make their home. Community conversations and gatherings happen in this space quite regularly and different empowerment groups meet in the coffee shop throughout the week. Uncle Willy worked for many years in the disability sector and is the designer and producer of the world’s first successful Braille Ballot Template, which enabled visually impaired and blind persons to vote independently. His attention to those with disabilities is evident throughout, in that the bathrooms and entryways are fitted to receive those with special needs. There are even two rooms that are handicap accessible B&B units.

There is an old door that hangs in a hallway with historical pictures in it. Uncle Willy shared the stories of Steve Biko and a good friend of his, Peter Jones, who was arrested at the same time as Biko. He shared stories about the realities of the people in his community and his belief that they don’t need anything fancy, but they do need a space like this where they can come together and find themselves a part of their greater community. Most of the tables and furniture throughout the shop were made by either Uncle Willy or his brother from reclaimed wood. They aren’t fancy, but they are full of beautiful character.

There is a tree outside that provides shade for those who find their way to this special place and it was under this tree that Uncle Willy shared his journey of serving those with physical disabilities. He shared about his background in construction, and how the vision for the coffee shop came into being. People like Uncle Willy who are able to see possibility in the midst of great challenges, remind us of what hope looks like and they stretch our imaginations, reminding us that there are so many different ways to bless the world with the gifts we are given.

We are in the season of Advent. Advent in the Latin translates to, “coming” which means what we wait for is not here yet. Advent is the time when we wait with expectant hope, for the promise of something more. This journey to Kuilsrivier was long for a cup of coffee, but the wait brought with it an unexpected surprise. What a beautiful vision of people in a community coming together and honoring the love of God alive in them, by honoring each other and the community around them so well. May our Advent journeys give birth to unexpected blessings we realize in the wait!

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Gentle us open

Gentle us open

December 3, 2017  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Gentle us open

An Advent prayer by Ted Loader

Lord of Life and Light, help us not to fall in love with the darkness that separates us from you and from each other, but to watch large-eyed, wide-hearted, open-handed, eager-minded for you, to dream and hunger and squint and pray for the light of you and life for each other.

Lord, amidst our white-knuckled, furrow-faced busy-ness in this season, we realise deep within us that your gifts of mercy and light, peace and joy, grace upon grace can be received only if we are unclenched open. 

So this is our prayer, Lord: Open us!

Gentle us open, pry, shock, tickle, beguile, knock, amaze, squeeze, any wily way you can us open.

Open us to see your glory in the coming again of the light of each day, the light in babies’ eyes and lovers’ smiles, the light in the glaze of weariness that causes us to pause, the light of truth whenever spoken and done.

Open us to songs of angels in the thumping of traffic, in the rustle of shoppers, the canopy of pre-dawn silence, in the hum of hope, the wail of longing within us, in the cries of our brothers and sisters for justice and peace and in our own souls’ throb toward goodness.

Open us, then, to share the gifts you have given us and to the deep yearning to share them gladly and boldly, to sweat for justice, to pay the cost of attention, to initiate the exchange of forgiveness, to risk a new beginning free of past grievances, to engage with each other in the potluck of joy and to find the gifts of a larger love and deeper peace.

Open us, Lord of miracles of the ordinary, to the breath-giving, heart-pounding wonder of birth, a mother’s fierce love, a father’s tender fidelities, a baby’s barricade-dissolving burble and squeak, that we may be born anew ourselves into the “don’t be afraid” fullness of your image, the fullness of a just and joyful human community, the fullness of your kingdom, in the fullness of your time; through the eternal grace of your son, our brother Jesus. Amen.

Gentle us open!


O God be new to us once more,
that we become new for ourselves,
and for each other
and together try something new
for you in your world;
for Jesus sake,
and ours. 

Amen.

                                                                                                      

Ted Loder

 

The Invitation

The Invitation

December 27, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Invitation

The Invitation

By Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Alan

Thin places

Thin places

December 20, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Thin places

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices
in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour
on the lowliness of his servant.”
Luke 1:46-48


Thin places…

“There is in Celtic mythology the notion of ‘thin places’ in the universe where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity. To seek such places is the vocation of the wise and the good — and for those that find them, the clearest communication between the temporal and eternal. Mountains and rivers are particularly favoured as thin places marking invariably as they do, the horizontal and perpendicular frontiers. But perhaps the ultimate of these thin places in the human condition are the experiences people are likely to have as they encounter suffering, joy, and mystery.” ~ Peter Gomes


This picture by one of our members, Lulu Fitzpatrick captures the essence of what Peter Gomes is naming as a thin place. Right in the centre of the painting there is light and puffs of clouds breaking in like a new day unfolding. The season of advent is just this, a new day slowly unfolding. It is the time when we enter into a season of waiting.The wait is not for the magical, but the majestic.

The thin places on the earth and in our lives provide for us moments of awe and wonder that inspire us to lean into the something new that is always struggling to be born in us and in the world around us.

They make real for us what can sometimes feel elusive — the majesty of God. We are almost to Christmas and the magical will appear all around us. There will be bright paper, ribbons, decorations, tables full of food, and most likely strands and strands of twinkle lights.

Yet, what is truly unimaginable is that light like the light breaking through in Lulu’s picture can break in through each of us as we turn towards the majestic. There is such beauty in Cape Town. The sea roars to life here. The mountain stands powerful against the sky. The whales hide beneath the surface of an ink blue sea, waiting for just the right moment to teach lessons of wisdom and truth to you and me. The flowers are like nowhere else in the world and they remind us of the beauty of love and life. Nature here honors the majesty of God.

Mary sings of her soul magnifying the Lord. From the deepest place in her being, she would shout to the God who would do great things in and through her. She sings of a great levelling where God works to rise up the lowly and lower the proud and powerful. People who are hungry have food and those who are rich go away feeling empty. She is singing of a new day for the people who have walked in darkness, for in the darkness they will be able to see light. In the darkness, they will know how to gather. The gathering will be around the things that are right and true.

There is nothing magical about Mary’s song, it is wholly majestic. A new day indeed is being born through the one who we call Emmanuel, God with us. There is a sense that in the life blood of Jesus, the world is about to turn. The question is will we turn more and more towards the majesty of God? I encourage you this holiday season to pray that God might reveal to you a thin place where Heaven and Earth collapse for but a moment within yourself in order that you might experience the majestic and allow it to be born again in you.

With you on the journey, Michelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprised by joy

Surprised by joy

December 13, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Surprised by joy

Grace and peace to you

I spent time the other day with an old friend. She was telling me how at the beginning of 2014 she felt the need for a guru. Which I guess means that she was looking for a teacher. An “enlightened” teacher who could bring light to her living.

She wrote to a friend who she thought had guru connections. But no guru was found.

In December 2014 she received the devastating news that she had cancer.

Chemotherapy was prescribed – followed by cutting surgery. Time off. Time in bed. Time staring at the ocean. Time talking to the dog and time with the cat on her lap. Her hair has grown back – grey replacing the blonde. That was not the only thing that grew back a different colour. Her relationships with those closest to her have also grown back richer in colour.

Cancer was her guru. Sure, it was not the guru she was looking for. It was not the guru she wanted. And it certainly wasn’t the guru God sent her. But it was the guru that she could be enlightened by if she were open. And she was open.

Any guru worth their guru-salt basically does just one thing with their disciples. A guru en-courages disciples to become present to their life – their living – knowing that their life is good as it was proclaimed good in the beginning. If the disciple becomes truly present to their life – they may be surprised by the joy of knowing that they are enough. In fact, that they are more than enough and have more than enough and may even feel their heart strangely warmed. The great “guru gift” is courage. Without courage we will continue to avoid the truth of our living. In fear we will run. We will hide. We will close our eyes. We will go to sleep. We will do anything but face who we are in the very present moment of now. We will prefer to pitch our life in the past or project it into the future, but in so doing the disquiet within us deepens. The courage needed is courage to face the truth that life is as vulnerable as it is valuable. That life is beyond our control and therefore to live authentically in this life is to live vulnerably giving up the illusion of control. To accept this disquiet of reality is to cause the disquiet of our illusions to evaporate.

No surprise then that Guru Jesus instructs us repeatedly: “Do not fear… Do not be afraid… I have not come to condemn… I have come to save…” Guru Jesus hopes that we will wake up and become fully present to the beauty and goodness and vulnerability of our life.

In courage, Alan


Prepare

Strange how one word will so hollow you out.

But this word has been in the wilderness for months,
years.

This word has been what remained
after everything else was worn away
by sand and stone.

It is what withstood the glaring of sun by day,
the weeping  loneliness of the moon at night.

Now it comes to you racing out of the wild,
eyes blazing and waving its arms,
voice ragged with desert but piercing and loud
as it speaks itself again and again:

Prepare,  prepare…

It may feel like the word is levelling you,
Emptying you as it asks you to give up
what you have known.

It is impolite and hardly tame,
but when it falls upon your lips
you will wonder at the sweetness,
like honey that finds its way
into the hunger you had not known was there.

By Jan Richardson in Circles of Grace

Step towards the light

Step towards the light

December 6, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Step towards the light

Grace and peace to you

On this page you will see two Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. I came across both of them this past week. It doesn’t take long to realise that they are at odds with each other. The top cartoon is delightful – as Calvin and his imaginary tiger friend rejoice in the treasure of life. Everything – even rocks, roots and grubs are treasures. Indeed there is treasure everywhere. Life itself is a treasure. Life is the miracle. All of life!

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, considered by many to be one of the most significant Jewish theologians of the 20th century said: “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” Rabbi Heschel spoke of “wonder or radical amazement as refusing to take anything for granted”. Within this worldview we pray less for miracles and more for our eyes to be opened to the miracles all around us. The spiritual discipline we most need to cultivate in order to honour this worldview is attentiveness and gratitude. So let’s pray: “Fill us Lord with radical amazement for the treasure of life.”

The second cartoon is actually quite devastating and we can only hope it was before Calvin discovered that all of life is a treasure, but I fear it is more likely that Calvin moves between the two worldviews – back and forth like most of us do. The world of wonder and praise and the world of money and possession. There are times we are given insight into the priceless gift of life, but then we tend to forget and we fearfully clutch onto money while childishly thinking that our wellbeing rests in owning and possessing stuff. That the god of money rather than the God of mercy is the answer to our prayers. We mistakenly think having anything we want is more important than having what we need most. And what we need most is to surrender to the truth that our humanity fully flourishes in providing rather than possessing, in sharing rather than owning. So let’s pray: “Free us to accept that we own nothing. That all is a gift from you for us to share.”

I remind you again of Al Zolynas’ poem that ends with the words: “All I know is that place/where the light appears and disappears/that’s the place where we live.” Yes we live between these two cartoons – in the first the light appears and in the second the light disappears. May we step towards the light.

Grace, Alan

Prepare for Jesus

Prepare for Jesus

November 29, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Prepare for Jesus

In 1991, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership convened the first
Women’s Global Leadership Institute (WGLI).
The 23 participants came from different countries.

They established the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign as
one strategy to build awareness about gender-based violence and facilitate networking among women leaders working in this area, choosing to symbolically link
November 25th (International Day Against Violence Against Women) and
December 10th (International Human Rights Day).


Grace and Peace to you …

Today is the first Sunday of Advent – the season of patient, prayerful and persistent preparation for the coming of Jesus. We prepare for Jesus by living life in the way Jesus lived life: gently and generously; truthfully and justly; mercifully and joyfully.

To help us live life the Jesus way we need to pray. And so to prayerfully prepare I invite you to journey with Paul’s prayer for the people of Thessalonica which is one of the set readings for us today:

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Grace, Alan


Read – Reflect – Renew

 

Under Ideal Conditions
say in the flattest part of North Dakota
on a starless moonless night
no breath of wind

a man could light a candle
then walk away
every now and then
he could turn and see
the candle burning

seventeen miles later
provided conditions remained ideal
he could still see the flame

somewhere between the seventeenth and eighteenth mile
he would lose the light

if he were walking backwards
he would know the exact moment
when he lost the flame

he could step forward and find it again
back and forth
dark to light light to dark

what’s the place where the light disappears?
where the light reappears?
don’t tell me about photons
and eyeballs
reflection and refraction
don’t tell me about one hundred and eighty-six thousand
miles per second and the theory of relativity

all I know is that place
where the light appears and disappears
that’s the place where we live

~ Al Zolynas

 

What gives you hope?

What gives you hope?

December 14, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on What gives you hope?

Grace and Peace to you

One of the questions that I am often asked — especially after I have given my assessment on the state of our nation and world — is “Alan what gives you hope?” My answer: “The young social activists of our country.”

On Wednesday I had the privilege of attending a function hosted by the Open Society Foundation (OSF). The OSF is, among other things, a funder organisation of many different civil society movements. They brought together a number of the organisations that they fund for a round table discussion, facilitated by Justice Malala.

Organisations involved in: gender justice, HIV Aids, sanitation, safety, service delivery at local government level, environmental justice, access to information, education, health and corruption were represented.

I was inspired by their courage and creativity. I was given hope by their own hope for change. Something Justice Malala picked up on from the panel discussion (picture alongside) was that everyone spoke of the crucial importance of holding those in power to account. Accountability was the key word. As one of the older anti-Apartheid activists said: “In the last 20 years since democracy we have been let down by human conduct.” Well as sad as that is, it should not surprise us. We read in the Scriptures of a people who needed to be constantly set free — sometimes from outside enemies but most of the time from themselves. And this is where my hope ultimately returns — the great grace of God who offers Divine pardon over and over, empowering us to begin over to reconstruct society for the common good.

Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

Drain us now of distractions, O God, and free us from all that diverts out attentions, so that all our senses can focus on the Christ child’s coming.

Show us again, in the most notable, yet most humble of births, the mingling of divine and human we call incarnation.

In the coming birth of your child and ours, teach us the dimensions of holy mystery, deliver us from preoccupation with trivial things, and focus our hearts, with reverent diligence, on things eternal.

Journey to healing

Journey to healing

December 7, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Journey to healing

Today is the second Sunday of Advent which is the beginning of the Christian Calendar. We begin a new year by preparing our lives and world for the coming of Christ among us. For the next three Sundays we will light an Advent candle reminding us of the coming of Christ, the light of the world, and inviting us to be the light.

To be light in the world is not to be reduced to “believing the right beliefs” in our head. Rather it is about doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.  It is about camping out for social justice.  #Umbrella-movement Hong K.


Grace and Peace to you

You remember the first two steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous [AA] 12 step programme? The first step: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. The second step: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

And so what AA teaches us is that a journey to healing — indeed a journey to sanity (clear lucid living and loving) — begins with two crucial ingredients or it doesn’t begin at all. The first is humility (admit there are aspects of our life that are unmanageable). The second is hope (trust that there is a greater Power that can take over management).

Both of these ingredients were found in last week’s readings that marked the first week of Advent which is nothing else than a journey to healing and sanity for the world.

We heard the humble cry from the Advent prophet Isaiah: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down….” [Isaiah 64]. We can feel the powerlessness of the prophet to overcome the unbridgeable distance that is felt to exist between himself and God. We hear his desire for visitation and his longing for company yet he is unable to secure it for himself. The prophet has run out of rope. He has no more tricks up his sleeve. If there is going to be a reunion with the Lord it is going to have to happen because the Lord has decided to act and act in no less a dramatic way than to rip the heavens apart.

We also heard the recurring refrain from the Advent Psalmist: “Restore us O God of hosts. Let your face shine that we may be saved.” [Ps 80]. There is hope! Yes, there is hope. Our inadequacy will not have the last word. By grace our inadequacy will lead us to the last word. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

At the risk of being ridiculously over simplistic (St. Paul would say ‘foolish’) I suggest that there are areas of our living that never find sanity for the simple reason that we refuse to admit our powerlessness and trust the Lord’s power. To hand over the captain’s armband of our life and to bring in new management.

Try it and see, Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

What is Hope?
It is a presentiment that imagination is more real
and reality less real than it looks.

It is a hunch
that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress is not the last word.

It is a suspicion
that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible
are not determined by the limits of the actual
and that in a miraculous and unexpected way
life is preparing the creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection….

The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.
Suffering without hope
produces resentment and despair,
hope without suffering
creates illusions, naiveté, and drunkenness….

Let us plant dates
even though those who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret discipline.
It is a refusal to let the creative act
be dissolved in immediate sense experience
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.

Such disciplined love
is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for the future they envisaged.
They make their own bodies
the seed of their highest hope.

Rubem Alves – Brazilian Theologian

Taste the sacred

Taste the sacred

November 30, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Taste the sacred

Today is the first Sunday of Advent which is the beginning of the Christian Calendar. We begin a new year by preparing our lives and world for the coming of Christ among us. For the next four Sundays we will light an Advent candle reminding us of the coming of Christ the light of the world and inviting us to be the light.

To be light in the world is not to be reduced to “believing the right beliefs” in our head. Rather it is about doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.


Grace and Peace to you

I love Wednesdays. Actually I love what I get to do on Wednesdays. Well actually I love who I get to meet when I get to do what I do on Wednesdays. I meet a group of young men who are enrolled in a 10 week woodwork and life-skills programme at the Carpenter’s Shop.

The group is diverse. Over the weeks we get to hear a little about each person’s life. Some have been sponsored by friends or employers or family members to attend, hoping that they can pick up a skill that may make them a little more employable. Some are part of the Ceasefire Gang Intervention programme from Hanover Park who are either recently ex-gang members or who are still connected. Others are from other parts of Africa hoping to get some South African qualification to boost their opportunities of getting “in” somewhere. All are trying to better their life. All battling multitudes of challenges.

I am proud of each participant who gets up every morning to make it to class. Just showing up is a huge achievement for most, and to see through a 10 week course is a record commitment for some. There are days when a couple of the guys will share how they are craving to start using again. I watch as they restlessly move this way and that on the wooden benches. I notice how their classmates sensitively support them — giving them both space and encouragement but also realising that they cannot rescue or “save” the guy who is craving. It is his journey and only he can walk that path — no one can walk it for him. There is no denial of the situation but most importantly there is no judgement either. I experience this “no denial and no judgement” space as very healing. In fact it tastes sacred.

Along a similar track, because it was also on Wednesday and gang related, I had the privilege of connecting with a community activist in Manenberg. She told me that her daughter was shot earlier in the year. She then went on to share with me how she went to the related gang’s “den”. In her words: “I told them that my daughter had been shot. I assured them that I would not press charges, but that I wanted to know who was responsible and why. A 17 year old owned up. I asked him to take me to his parents, which he then did and I offered to help the family …” Her story of truth and grace tasted sacred to me.

Oh to live that others taste the sacred!

Grace, Alan


 Advent Prayer of Preparation

O God, in times past we looked for you in heavenly eclipses. We listened for you in howling winds. We learned of you in quaking mountains. But now we know that you will be found among us.

And you will be seen not in the glitter of a mall but in a shelter for the homeless. You will be heard not in the pitch of a commercial but in the whimper of a child. You will come, not clothed in the comforts of the privileged but swaddled in the needs of the neglected. You will come, not in the decisions (more like denials) of a grand jury, but in the purifying fires of justice for innocent life taken by being shot down.

Open our eyes that we might witness the appearance of your messengers. Open our ears that we might hear the testimony of those on the margins. Open our hearts that we might ponder the secrets of those who birth Jesus. And open our mouths that we might shout the good news of your presence among us. Amen.

                                                [Adapted from Litanies and other Prayers]