Whispered moments of grace

Whispered moments of grace

December 24, 2017  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Whispered moments of grace

Grace is something that moves in our lives like the wind. It comes in moments when we least expect it and we recognize it for learning the whisper of it that reminds us of all that is good, all that is true, and all that is love in the world. We can in our lives become people who are Grace Whisperers, ones who rest in the light of God’s love so much so, that we move with the grace of God in ways that bring light, love, and wholeness to the others we encounter in the world. To move with Grace requires a catch and a release. We catch the waves of God’s grace and we release all power that is our own, this movement leaves us in a whirl of vulnerability, but it is in that place of vulnerability that God’s power becomes our own.

It should teach us something that God’s grace in its fullest form enters into the world into the skin of something as vulnerable as a newborn child. If the God of the Heavens lived cloaked with robes of majesty, this God undresses and takes on the most exquisitely vulnerable reality. The one powerful enough to speak all creation into being, also chooses to exalt one who the world would believe to be unworthy. Grace whispers to Mary, “you are worthy, you are a wonderful, beautiful, child of God. You are more than enough to carry the love of God!” Grace whirls within Mary, she releases any insecurity that might have been gifted to her by her community and the Power of God is remembered by her and through her as the grace of it lifts up into the air in her song.

Mary teaches us with three words how to release oneself to the greatest power in all the world. When Mary says, “Let it Be,” she recognizes that the safest place for her to find herself in her life, is held in the promise of God’s grace that is whispering sacred truths all around her. Mary catches those waves of grace and releases all hold, all power, any sense of need to control. She releases herself into vulnerable, sacred, trust. Mary is one of the most powerful women in all of scripture, not because of the way she sings words of power and might, but because of the way she lives in the humble space required of one to be a receiver of them. Her power is in the vessel she allows herself to be.

So often we cling to power, cling to a need to control. Grace whispers to us, “release.” So often, we get dressed up in our own power, our designs of how things in our lives and the lives of others should be, but grace says to us, “shed all of that. The love of God entered into the world as a fragile, naked, little baby. You have no idea the power that is held in this sort of vulnerability, but watch love as it rises.”

Love sits with the meek, the lowly, the outcast, the oppressed. Love honors women and children and all of mankind. Love shares meals with those cloaked in sin and washes the feet of those who stumble along their way. Love reaches across every boundary to stand in solidarity. Love does not walk alone, love circles, and multiplies. Love pierces lies with truth and humbles oneself in vulnerable honesty. Love walks in poverty and love sits under trees, on mountainsides, and by the sea–teaching about the abundance held in sacred, creative, space. Love sleeps in hospitality. Love forgives, not once, but again and again and again. Love sings, love laughs, love is patient and kind, and love is the prophetic song calling each of us to humble ourselves in order that we might in God’s grace, like Mary, be empowered to rise.

As always, it has been a gift to be…

With you on the journey,
Michelle

 

Go with me, God

Go with me, God

December 17, 2017  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Go with me, God

Go with me, God

A prayer for God to find us where anger takes us, by Ted Loder (My Heart in my Mouth).

O God, I know it’s a long, hard trip out of anger and retreat to any repair of the breech, and beginning degree of a longed-for intimacy.

Go with me, with us, as you went with Adam and Eve and all the us’s ever since, some to healing avail.

Go with me, God, through honest self-knowledge to a proportioned humility, from fevered accusation to accurate apology, from delicious aggrievement to a shared cup of forgiveness, from stunting addiction to my biases to crediting the other’s side, a glimpsing of the larger, inclusive view seen by four eyes or more, instead of two.

Go with me, God, on this long trip of listening and letting go, all the winding ways toward seeing myself truly, seeing where I am and who, and how I got here, seeing all my misbegotten pride, all my blighting misperception of others, and mostly of you.

Go with me, God, on this walk on the narrow ridge, enabling me to stand my ground without betraying it in passivity or disguising it in manipulating, or in false modesty, an hypocrisy worse than blind pride; to stand my ground humbly so as not to deny others theirs, or invading theirs with ridicule.

Grant me courage to say what I mean and honestly mean what I say, without judging what others say or mean, and so making myself trustworthy, transforming anger into the energy to make new things possible.

O God, it is not just a way back that I’m praying for, but a way to a different place than habit has worn out, a home I never had before. I sense it takes a trip of many turns, returns and many years to make, remake, and make again.

Go with me, to keep me from getting lost, or being too reluctantly ashamed to take the first demanding steps that will be the beginning now of that lifetime journey to the self I so passionately long to be, to those I love and lost awhile, and so to those in the shimmering web of this human family I’m in for good, and so to you, who, I am praying, waits close to welcome and go limping home with me. Amen.

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.