In love, by love, for love

In love, by love, for love

Jul 21, 2019  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on In love, by love, for love

Grace to you

The line in love, by love, for love, is Central Methodist Mission’s (CMM) key phrase. I am not sure that I fully understand what it means, but I think attending CMM has opened for me the possibility for a different type of engagement with God, my faith and love.

Seeking God in a church or faith community often comes with a desire for certainty. We want some rules, mantras, guidance and explanations of how to live our lives. We hope for some assurance that tragedy will not strike us if we are believers and that believing will explain to us tragedies we have experienced. Many people think belonging to a church makes them different or better human beings.

None of that holds true if one engages the phrase in love, by love and for love.

God’s love is most elegantly experienced in the chaos it occasions. It has transformative power if we embrace it with the willingness to experience uncertainty. Exploring the Bible, we find many examples where God’s love unsettles the norms, the establishment, the existing ‘way of doing things’. The stories we read are hardly ever about certainty or predictability but more often about surprise and wonder. The gospels where Jesus heals sick people and performs miracles are not only transforming the physical health of the healed person, but it transforms the understanding of love and acceptance of others. It questions a system that allowed it to dehumanise people because of their gender, health issues or societal status. Love is at the centre – God is love. So scriptures are not a moral compass telling us how to live our lives but offer us the experience of transformative love.

The most practical example where I experience this transformative, embracing and chaotic love is as a parent. My experience as a mother is that this little human being creeps into every inch of my physical and mental space. Having a child evokes all sorts of feelings from pain, deep introspection, doubt and anger to absolute joy and unimaginable wonder. The love for my child makes me do things I haven’t dreamt of and has turned my world upside down. In Matthew 18:2-4, Jesus says “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I believe that this scripture is not only about the innocence of children as many interpret this section. I think it is about the ability to love and be loved in an absolute transformative yet uncertain way. Children have the ability to love us entirely as we are. They don’t have doubts or questions if and why they should love us and what to do to show their love. They just love.

A friend of mine elegantly summarised what I have learned at CMM: believing in God is about embracing the many possibilities occasioned by love – those might be traumatic, chaotic or joyous. Believing in God liberates one to engage with all those possibilities. It allows for the embrace of uncertainty. And only in the uncertainty can wonder emerge, possibility grow and love thrive.

Carolin

Skin Colour

Skin Colour

Jul 14, 2019  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Skin Colour

Grace and peace to you

While reading the following poems, Skin by Pie Corbett and What’s your colour? by Julia Donaldson, I reflected on the pain of skin colour that continues to haunt us during our twenty-five years of democracy. The power of the colour of skin and its ability to discriminate and inflict pain and suffering on humanity, is intolerable.

The issue of skin keeps appearing in our media and in our conversations. Why are we still so intimidated by people of another colour; or sometimes, only certain people of a certain skin colour?

Thuli Madonsela suggests that it is about recognising enduring racially-skewed power relations as a legacy of the past artificial racial categories.

The way in which we perceive people and practice colourism, continues to impede the growth and development of a new humanity in our country. It is all about how we treat and value human life, when we allow skin colour to dictate and determine a person’s worth and place in our society. Our colour prejudices, our perceptions and our generalisations of “the others” need to change if we are going to make a difference in God’s world.

 Skin 

What is it about skin; That gets people so excited?
Skin is the body bag; That holds us together.
Skin is the smothering; That keeps out the weather.
Skin is the curtain – Drawn down at the start.
Skin is the wrapper – That contains the heart.
Skin is the spray – Round the ragbag of bone.
Skin is the sleeping bag – Into which we are sown.
Skin is thin – Even a rose thorn can rip skin.
And yet some people – Are afraid of it –
Even though we are all made of it.

(Pie Corbett)

This poem confronts us with the truth that God the loving creator has covered us all with skin. So then as followers of Jesus, how are we measuring up to Jesus’ words: “I have come that you might have life and life in all its fullness.”? Are we aligned to the plumb-line and example of Jesus’ life, ”the man for others”, of love, justice, compassion, forgiveness? Are we able to look beyond skin colour and are we able to relate to others who are different; especially those folk who choose not to be tolerant in the creation of a new humanity for all. This is our daily struggle to move from resentment and suspicion, to acceptance and growth and understanding that we all need each other or as Martin Luther King challenges us “to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools”.

What’s your colour? 

‘What’s your colour, the colour of your skin.’
‘The colour of the envelope that you’re wrapped in.’

(Julia Donaldson)

The above two lines are the repetitive refrain from a poem that focuses on skin colour. Reflecting on the question that the poet asks, demonstrates the role of the skin as an envelope that contains the body and all that it is: body, mind and soul. The skin as an organ is referred to as an instrument which has the capacity to shape our identity and determine and define our being.

Maybe we should all stop and reflect now on the following questions: What kind of envelope is containing me, shaping me, defining me and by whom? What is restricting me or freeing me to be? What is my exterior about and how is it aligned to my inner being? Can I reflect on my skin as an organ which has the power to determine the manner in which I relate to others in our world? What are my choices of access to opportunities or access denied at the moment? Am I a victim because of the colour of my skin or am I wrestling with my being called “You are my beloved daughter, you are my beloved son.”?

We are all vulnerable and in need of healing and in need of each other as we together work at making a difference in God’s world, regardless of skin colour!

Jane

The cycle of life

The cycle of life

Jul 7, 2019  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The cycle of life

Grace and peace to you

Being present to and engaging with the cyclical nature of Life can be an incredibly grounding rhythm, connecting us with our true nature. We live in a culture obsessed with fast pace, constant productivity at any cost, and a denial of diminishment, loss, weakness, vulnerability, mortality and even death. 

 The cycle of life, death and rebirth is the only way all things flourish. It is in resistance to this that we truly suffer. 

 To those open to learn, we are taught these ways – from the dawn and dusk of every day, to the monthly cycle of the moon. From the seasons, graphically displayed in a grand forest, with its dramatic change of colours in the autumn, the surrendering of its leaves and its bold stance of naked branches against the grey sky, to the menstrual cycle in a female body, with the preparation for new life, new ventures, new opportunities, both physically and psychologically, and then slowing down to a death and grief of what could have been and a gentle turning inward, or, the self-sacrifice initiated to birth a new human being. 

As we have just passed the winter solstice, perhaps we could heed the invitation to be present to a latent time, a time after death and letting go, a time of rest and hibernation, hiding and germinating, with the promise of Spring and Summer gently held in the silence and the stillness. May we exercise the courage and appropriate the grace to be with the potential discomfort this season may bring up, as we face what is, in and around us. Letting go the illusion of control in doing, in order to witness and experience the emerging mystery in Being. 

 Towards abundant life. 
Catherine


The Winter of Listening

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.
Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own. 

David Whyte (The House of Belonging)

 

 

 

 

Chaos & Order

Chaos & Order

Jun 30, 2019  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Chaos & Order

What gardening has taught me…

A gardener’s job is never done. Although the winter months are seen as the dormant time of the gardening year, there is always something that needs attending to, and for me these cold winter months are when I get next season’s compost heap going.

The process starts in the autumn when the deciduous trees start to shed their leaves. Then the Cape storms that wash over the Peninsula deliver all sorts of debris in the form of branches, sticks and evergreen leaves. Winter is also a time to prune and so all that material ends up in the compost heap, along with any weeds that may have to be removed from the garden beds. Finally there may be some grass clippings that will also end up in the mix.

So the compost heap starts out as a chaotic mix of different and unrelated materials.

The wetness of our winter months helps settle the compost heap and then as the weather starts to warm during Spring and the early Summer months, the pile will start to steam as the materials within the heap decompose. It really gets going during the second half of summer and after Christmas I often need to turn over the heap. Then all going well, come autumn, you end up with a beautiful homogenous pile of dark brown compost that you can spread as a blanket over your garden beds.

The making of compost is a journey between chaos and order. You take a whole mix of mess and then with work, time and a bit of magic, that chaotic mess turns into a usable and nutritious product that will define the next season’s abundance of food and flowers.

I find that my own life follows that same routine. My journey through life is a constant swing between chaos and order and if you are anything like me, more chaos than order.

I am always planning to have an ordered life and hope that it could be like that end pile of neat compost rather than feeling it is mostly like the chaotic mess of leaves, branches and lawn clippings that is the starting point of the compost heap.

I am slowly learning to embrace the idea of chaos, to rather accept it and learn how to ride the swing between chaos and order. Just as I could never produce a beautiful load of compost without the chaotic and messy pile in the beginning, so it is unrealistic of me to expect my own dreams and plans to materialise without a messy and chaotic journey along the way.

Jesus loved stirring the pot and creating chaos wherever he went. Chaos is always needed to challenge the status quo and so if you embrace the Jesus way, the one guarantee is that chaos and mess are going to come your way. But out of that chaos a new sense of order always develops and just when you are getting comfortable and think you have all the answers, you will be challenged to make a new compost heap.

In my own little garden my compost heap is visible from the cottage that I live in. In fact, at the moment it is as big as my cottage and is the focal point of the outdoor space that surrounds me. Not a water feature, not a rose garden, but rather the compost heap. The compost heap should be the visual focal point of every garden and not hidden away in the backyard. Seeing it each morning as I drink my first cup of tea, reminds me that chaos and order are intricately linked and a very necessary part of my life. My challenge is to face the constant swing between chaos and order with love, grace, humility and most importantly, gratitude.

Sincerely, Athol

Doubt & Faith

Doubt & Faith

Jun 23, 2019  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Doubt & Faith

In praise of doubt

Praised be doubt! I advise you to greet
Cheerfully and with respect the man
Who tests your word like a bad penny.
I’d like you to be wise and not to give
Your word with too much assurance

Read history and see
The headlong flight of invincible armies.
Wherever you look
Impregnable strongholds collapse and
Even if the Armada was innumerable as it
Left port
The returning ships
Could be numbered.

Thus, one day a man stood on the
Unattainable summit
And a ship reached the end of
The endless sea.

O Beautiful the shaking of heads
Over the indisputable truth!
O brave the doctor’s cure
Of the incurable patient!

But the most beautiful of all doubts
Is when the downtrodden and despondent
Raise their heads and
Stop believing in the strength of their oppressors.

 (excerpt by Bertolt Brecht, 1932)


I’ve been thinking about Doubt a lot lately. Everything seems to scream and mock from every corner that there is nothing good about doubt. The remedies are many, none more so than having faith it seems which seems to plunge me into the darkest of abyss or on a blind path, like anything can be contained so neatly. As if God could only find me pleasing if I have faith.

And then this poem, it was like every nerve ending stood to attention. At last something I could relate to. It seems to me that Doubt can be BOTH a ‘gift’ and a ‘curse’. Its curse is the continuation or other half of this poem, if you choose to read it to its end. Its curse seems to be a universal human condition of always being certain of one’s own treasured beliefs, holding tightly onto a faith that will not be shaken, even in oneself.

Perhaps it’s not as I have always believed an either… or… but rather a Faith that walks hand in hand with Doubt, both necessary to each other.

Perhaps doubt is rather a Divine gift urging us on to seek and search our inner most beliefs, shaking something deep within ourselves, challenging us to doubt what we have always believed, our certainties, actions, the status quos in this world, enlarging and forcing us at last, to recognise the light within the darkness of ourselves.

Bertolt Brecht was a German playwriter and poet who made popular Epic theatre. The purpose of which was to force the audience to see their world as it is, by using historical contexts and connecting them with current social or political issues. He wanted his audiences to think. He seemed to think we could change the world because to quote him he said (another excerpt) “General, man is very useful. He can fly and he can kill. But he has one defect: He can think.”

Trusting in Doubt
Pam

 

Manifest Christ in our living

Manifest Christ in our living

Jun 16, 2019  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Manifest Christ in our living

Grace to you

In Bristol in the United Kingdom is the oldest Methodist chapel, built in 1739 by John Wesley. It is called the New Room. The Chapel is still in use but is now part of the Museum at the New Room depicting the development of Methodism and the story of the Wesleys. The displays highlight the spiritual work as well as the social issues.

In the museum is a list of “Principles for the 18th century” by John Wesley. The museum added the line: A Political Manifesto for Today? The Principles seem to be a hope-list for the many hope-less, covering a broad catchall of human misery and failure of so many others over centuries, before and after Wesley. It did not only focus on the immediate needs but includes a broader world view.

 It is as relevant today, nearly 300 years later, as then, but more urgently so. Our land and people still weep for lost generations, lost opportunity and lost hope. Education, employment, modern slavery, intolerance, abuse, violence, inequality still destroy life, liberty, living and love. More recently we have become more and more aware of our abuse of our planet and the effects of human induced climate interference. We have also not yet freed ourselves from abusing those made in the image of God, especially women and children. By what principles are we living, if we profess Christ, how do we seek to manifest Christ in our living? What will be said of us in 300 years, or 30?

Moral issues are also raising new frontiers of contention. Politicians, businessmen and other leaders, even in the religious sector, can be blatantly dishonest, lie and cheat and continue in their positions with wheels of intervention turning slowly or not at all. Civil protest and taking a stand continues to be necessary instruments for change. Often, with profound personal consequences.

Martin Prozesky, a local professor, researcher and writer, wrote an article in the City Press titled: The Innocent Until Proven Guilty Fallacy. He writes: “there is a dangerous error about people who are suspected on good grounds of wrongdoing, but who have never been charged or found guilty in a court of law. The error is to claim that one is in fact innocent until proven guilty so that a person can legitimately occupy public office just like anybody with an impeccable legal and moral record. That is not what the law says. Our constitution in section 35, (3) (h) of the Bill of Rights says that every accused person has the right “to be presumed innocent” until proven guilty by a court of law. That is absolutely not the same as actually being innocent … the person is for the time being neither innocent, nor guilty, but in a position between them as if innocent, until law or disciplinary procedures have taken their course. Such a person therefore is actually under a cloud ethically.”

As we view our principles, what are we justifying as a community, or as an individual in relation to our inaction, our prejudice, our bias, and our forgetfulness of Christ in our living and Christ in our lives?

As we consciously try to become more Christ-like in our world, John Wesley challenges us to:

Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
as long as ever you can
.

Grace,
Gilbert

We praise you, God

We praise you, God

Nov 18, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on We praise you, God

Invitation to Prayer

God, whose word spoke life and creativity into a formless universe,
and order to a nation of escaped slaves,
whose strong and compassionate voice challenged injustice through frail prophets,
we praise you.

Jesus, whose touch smoothed the broken skin of lepers,
and brought a bleeding woman back to health and belonging,
whose hand raised dead girls, and refused to throw stones at prostitutes,
we praise you.

Spirit, whose breath restores souls and bodies, and whose presence comforts the grieving,
whose fire ignites compassion within us for the healing of the nations,
we praise you.

In the noise of voices calling for revenge, judgement and punishment,
we pray for the courage to speak out for restoration.

When pain, poverty and persecution leave people blind to grace and compassion,
we pray for the courage to carry the light of love and forgiveness.

Where the quest to even the score has left our world angry and wounded,
we pray for the courage to release our grievances and seek wholeness for all.

As you intercede for us, Jesus, we intercede for our world that all may know
the Good News of restoration in Christ.

God of wholeness, we celebrate the healing you bring
to us and our world, and we celebrate the promised
wholeness that awaits all of creation in your eternal reign.

God of restoration, in our blindness and ignorance,
you open our eyes and lead us to truth;

in our arrogance and defiance, you still our souls and teach us humility;
in our weakness and displacement, you protect us and lead us home;
While we deserve only judgement and the heavy burden of paying our debts,
you offer us grace, and the hope of life renewed.

And so we praise you
and thank you,
with all our hearts. Amen.

~ Nicole Terblanche

 

God, love us into loving

God, love us into loving

Nov 11, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on God, love us into loving

Grace and Peace

Utterly Loving God – lover of the world – lover of all of humanity. Please love us into loving.
Your love is without limit.
Your love is faithfully consistent.
Your love is flexible and firm and supple and strong like water – able to flow through or around the failings of those you love: saturating and surrounding our failure with your forgiveness.

Your love is free but it is not cheap. It costs you rather than us, the recipient. We love only because you have first loved us. In our loving your love is ever expanding and stretching and growing.

Your love has no favourites. Your love is for all – yet with special attention on those who need it most because we falsely believe we least deserve it. Like water, your love follows the gravity of our guilt – pooling itself in the lowest parts of our beings – the most desperate and deprived, depraved and debauched areas of our lives – and there your love slowly swirls and invites us to wash – to bathe – to be baptised – to be refreshed and renewed.

We confess we struggle to love. What we call love is often not very loving. Often it is nothing more than petty ego-centric acts of manipulation – brittle and easily offended – all the while being offensive and brutish.

You invite us to love our enemies – yet we even struggle to love our lovers – the people we share a name with … a home, a table, a bed, a past, present and future. We swing between smothering closeness and isolating distance … between caring and controlling. We betray promises – we lie – we break commitments – we slice each other with cold silence. We punish each other with our perfect recall of each other’s mistakes. We judge and we condemn and we hold to ransom. We speak in demands rather than requests. Gentleness forsakes our tone and sometimes our touch. We get bored with each other – stuck in confined corners void of curiosity for each other. Our imagination for something new becomes dull and dead – and the ability to start over seems beyond impossible so we either run away or we cynically settle into our discomfort.

Utterly loving God open us to be loved by you – that you will grow our trust in your love – so that we may be reminded again that we are indeed lovely and lovable. Unless we awaken to this truth of being born in love, by love and for love, you know that we will struggle to love those around us, as we will forever be casting them in our unlovable image.

Utterly loving God, please love us into loving today.
Amen.

Gift Economy

Gift Economy

Nov 4, 2018  |  All Saints Day, Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Gift Economy

Grace and peace

I have recently, and ever so briefly, been introduced to Robin Wall Kimmerer – author of Braiding Sweetgrass. Elizabeth Gilbert describes the book as: “A hymn of love to the world”. I say Amen to that!

Kimmerer describes herself as a “plant scientist, and … I am also a poet and the world speaks to me in metaphor”.

When asked, as a first year student, why she wanted to study botany, she answered: “Because goldenrod and asters are so beautiful together, and I want to know why. I want to know why these stand together. Why do they grow together and look so beautiful when they could grow apart?” Her advisor was dismayed: “That’s not science.” And he said, “You should go to art school if you want to study beauty.” Narrow single lens perspectives can be quite tyrannical! We see what we see according to the lenses through which we see. Today’s modern world privileges the scientific over the poetic, yet something special is bound to happen when the lenses of science and art love each other as neighbours. This is also true when studying the Scriptures.

Looking through the incredibly ancient yet beautifully fresh lens of indigenous wisdom, Kimmerer speaks of a “gift economy”. She writes, “Plants know how to make food from light and water, and then they give it away” and that what “my scientific community sometimes call ‘natural resources’ are what Native people call gifts”.

She continues: “And that language of thinking about them as gifts rather than natural resources is really, I think, very important because they … When we are given a gift, we know what to do about that, right? When we take natural resources, we take them without consequences when we call them natural resources. Well, they’re ours; they’re our property. We can do with them as we wish. But when we think about what the world gives us as gifts, not as stuff that we’re taking, but as gifts that are given, that engenders a whole different relationship to the living world, doesn’t it?

Suddenly, it invites gratitude, not expectation that I’ll get more and more and more, but gratitude for what I have been given. It generates a kind of self-restraint in return for that gift. When you know it’s a gift, it somehow makes you less greedy and more satisfied and appreciative of what you have.

The other way in which we know when we’re given a gift—yes, we want to be thankful; we want to be respectful to that gift. But when we’re given a gift, it also opens the door to reciprocity, to say, “In return for this gift, I want to give something back,” and that’s the gift-giving economy. It’s based not on an exchange of property, but an exchange based on reciprocity, so that in return for what’s given we want to give something back in return, which means we need to engage one another not anonymously, but as individual beings to consider what it is that we have to give to each other.”

The ‘Gift’ lens is another name for the Jesus lens. For those who have eyes to see…

Grace,
Alan

Gardening-grace

Gardening-grace

Oct 28, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Gardening-grace

Grace and peace to you

Gardening and writing are close relatives.

When I think of gardening, I think of planting. Planting seeds, seedlings and saplings into freshly fingered furrows of moistened soil. Yet I find in practice it is just the opposite. Instead of planting I am forever pulling “stuff” out. It is commonly known as weeding. Or “editing” as a gardening-guru-friend calls it.

My misconception of gardening is similar to the misconception many of us have about writing. As authors have noted: “To write is human, to edit is divine.” ~ Steven King. “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” ~ Mark Twain. “People think writing is writing. But actually writing is editing otherwise you just are taking notes.” ~ Chris Abani.

Told you gardening and writing are close relatives: Both demand editing, and editing is demanding. For this reason some have advised: “Write without fear. Edit without mercy” which is a slightly more Methodist way of saying, “Write drunk and edit sober” as Ernest Hemingway suggested.

Here are a few things I have noticed about “garden-editing”: It starts by not knowing where to start. And then moves to: “Why start if accomplishment looks impossible? Yet, not starting makes impossibility too much of a certainty – so I start. When I do get going I notice – certain weeds edit easily – while others need a firm tug. As some are pulled out they kick and scream and spray soil into my sweaty face while others break-off at the surface – demanding a jab with a small garden fork or to be frustratingly left to live another day – knowing they “will be back”. I notice that each time I stand to straighten and stretch my back that I catch sight of a “missed-edit” in an area I thought I was done with…so I move over to remove the stubborn lone resister and to my horror I discover it is not alone – it is legion. Could they have sprouted in the last twenty minutes or did I miss them first time round? They must have strategically timed their sprouting. They must be on steroids. Garden-editing can be quite addictive – especially if one has the slightest hint of compulsive obsessiveness. I say to myself, “Just one more then I will sit down and relax” – but as I am leaving my eyes fix sharply on a new patch that is overridden and I feel compelled once again to pull and tug. Finally and sadly, I realise it is possible that I may be so focused on editing the garden that I seldom enjoy it.

As it is with gardening and writing, fruitful living demands endless editing. By editing I do not mean self-loathing and judgement, but rather attentive reflection on the patterns of our living that rob us, others and creation of life in its fullness. Some of these patterns (both in thought and deed) are ripe to be removed while others will fight to stay. Some will require assistance to be extracted and several may break off at the stem – removed from sight but leaving the roots still deeply embedded. And yes, this inner work runs the risk of becoming obsessive – so best we set aside a specific time for this work – (knowing when to start as well as knowing when to take a break) remembering as important as editing is, it is equally important to enjoy the garden of our lives.

Gardening-grace,
Alan