A God of few words

A God of few words

February 22, 2015  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on A God of few words

Roy going up Chappies
12/12/1945 — 17/02/2015


Grace and Peace to you

As with last Sunday, today’s Gospel reading resounds with the voice of the Divine. Last week we heard it from on top of a mountain: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” [Mark 9:7] and today we hear it from the Jordan River bank: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [Mark 1:11].

These are the only two moments in the Gospels that we get to ‘overhear’ Jesus hearing his Heavenly Parent’s voice. The first time is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Baptism) and the second as Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem (Cross).

Note the repetitive nature of what is being said. God is a God of few words. It is as if the Divine knows what Jesus needs to know more than anything else, namely, whose child he is and that he is loved.

The other day I asked the new group I am working with at the Carpenter’s Shop which two things they would want their children to remember from them more than anything else. The overwhelming majority of them said: “They must know where they come from/they must know that I am their father … and they must know that I love them … yes I will tell them again that I love them.”

So there we have it. Parents on earth and heaven agree! Knowing who we belong to and that we are beloved is not only vital but it gives our lives grounding validity and purposeful vitality. It is the foundation of faithfulness.

This Lent we are invited to contemplate on the grace-full truth of our belonging and belovedness by the Divine.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

“Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked … and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God.

But without contemplation we cannot see what we do in the apostolate. Without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial: we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moments, and, finally, we betray Christ.

Without contemplation, without the intimate, silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.”

~ Thomas Merton

Contemplation

Contemplation

February 15, 2015  |  Sunday Letter, Transfiguration Sunday  |  Comments Off on Contemplation
André Brink died this week.

 A Dry White Season – André Brink

“I had never been so close to death before.
For a long time, as I lay there trying to clear my mind, I couldn’t think coherently at all, conscious only of a terrible, blind bitterness. Why had they singled me out? Didn’t they understand? Had everything I’d gone through on their behalf been utterly in vain? Did it really count for nothing? What had happened to logic, meaning and sense?
But I feel much calmer now. It helps to discipline oneself like this, writing it down to see it set out on paper, to try and weigh it and find some significance in it.
Prof Bruwer: There are only two kinds of madness one should guard against, Ben. One is the belief that we can do everything. The other is the belief that we can do nothing.
I wanted to help. Right. I meant it very sincerely. But I wanted to do it on my terms. And I am white, and they are black. I thought it was still possible to reach beyond our whiteness and blackness. I thought that to reach out and touch hands across the gulf would be sufficient in itself. But I grasped so little, really: as if good intentions from my side could solve it all. It was presumptuous of me. In an ordinary world, in a natural one, I might have succeeded. But not in this deranged, divided age. I can do all I can for Gordon or scores of others who have come to me; I can imagine myself in their shoes, I can project myself into their suffering. But I cannot, ever, live their lives for them. So what else could come of it but failure?
Whether I like it or not, whether I feel like cursing my own condition or not — and that would only serve to confirm my impotence — I am white. This is the small, final, terrifying truth of my broken world. I am white. And because I am white I am born into a state of privilege. Even if I fight the system that has reduced us to this I remain white, and favored by the very circumstances I abhor. Even if I’m hated, and ostracized, and persecuted, and in the end destroyed, nothing can make me black. And so those who are cannot but remain suspicious of me. In their eyes my very efforts to identify myself with Gordon, with all the Gordons, would be obscene. Every gesture I make, every act I commit in my efforts to help them makes it more difficult for them to define their real needs and discover for themselves their integrity and affirm their own dignity. How else could we hope to arrive beyond predator and prey, helper and helped, white and black, and find redemption?
On the other hand: what can I do but what I have done? I cannot choose not to intervene: that would be a denial and a mockery not only of everything I believe in, but of the hope that compassion may survive among men. By not acting as I did I would deny the very possibility of that gulf to be bridged.
If I act, I cannot but lose. But if I do not act, it is a different kind of defeat, equally decisive and maybe worse. Because then I will not even have a conscience left.
The end seems ineluctable: failure, defeat, loss. The only choice I have left is whether I am prepared to salvage a little honour, a little decency, a little humanity — or nothing. It seems as if a sacrifice is impossible to avoid, whatever way one looks at it. But at least one has the choice between a wholly futile sacrifice and one that might, in the long run, open up a possibility, however negligible or dubious, of something better, less sordid and more noble, for our children…”

____________________________

There are so many aspects of this piece from A Dry White Season that deserve our attention, but I would like us to pay attention to Brink’s ability at pay attention. His insight into himself and his relationships as well as the socio-political history and immediate context in which he lived is piercingly insightful. This does not come easily or quickly. It comes as a result of the longest of journeys — the journey within.

Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. The journey of self-examination demands much contemplation (as Thomas Merton invites); as well as great courage to connect with others who see the world from a different angle to ourselves. And because they see from a different angle they will help us to see shadows where we only see light and help us to see light where we only see shadows.

The season of Lent more than any other invites us on this journey of self-examination. In other words, Lent calls us to deepen our contemplation and stretch our connections with others. This is not easy and nor can it be rushed but it is essential if we want to live life in ways that honour Jesus.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

“Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked … and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God.

But without contemplation we cannot see what we do in the apostolate. Without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial: we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moments, and, finally, we betray Christ.

Without contemplation, without the intimate, silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.”

~ Thomas Merton

Training together

Training together

February 8, 2015  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Training together

Grace and Peace to you

A few weeks ago I was attending a conference. After a long day’s session of sitting I had decided that it would be good to go for a run before dinner. Wearily walking back to my room it felt that a snooze would be more appropriate. Anyway, just before I got to my room I overheard a fellow participant ask another if he was going running. After answering that he was going for a run he proceeded to invite me to join him. It was all that I needed to be motivated: An invitation to do what I knew would be good for me and that which I really wanted to do.

So I went running and skipped the snooze.

I ended up running faster and further than I would have had I gone on my own (which was still not very far or fast). We decided to run together every day for the duration of the conference. Each time forgoing the tempting snooze before dinner. Each time running faster and further than I would have on my own.

The result: I became a little fitter than I would have either snoozing or running on my own. I also got to know my running partner who has since become a supportive friend.

In this small way I was reminded again how we are made to be in community with others. We will do life more faithfully if we deliberately do it in the company of others who “watch over us in love”.

Remember the African proverb: “If you want to go fast … go alone. If you want to go far … go together.” There is no meaningful spirituality that is “fast”, so there is no meaningful spirituality that is done alone. It’s a contradiction in terms.

When Jesus walked he walked with others — slow, steady, far and faithful. In two weeks’ time we begin the season on Lent — the painfully long journey to the cross. A journey we will not complete unless we link hearts and hands especially in prayer.

Some of us fasted for Ramadan last year — I hope we will be deliberate about fasting and praying together during Lent. Find someone to watch over in love. Ask someone to watch over you with love.

Grace, Alan


To assist you during load-shedding … 


Prayerful Preparation

“I shall look at the world through tears.
Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see.
The tears streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would,
making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested.”

– St Augustine

The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe

The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe

February 1, 2015  |  Covenant Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe

Grace and Peace to you

Hope for the Flowers was one of the first books I remember my mom giving to me. I have never stopped reading it and never stopped trusting in its truth. It could have been called The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe.

It is about two caterpillars named Yellow and Stripe. Yellow and Stripe were in love with each other. They decided that there was more to life than getting to the top of the caterpillar pile and decided to journey in a new direction. To live for each other instead of themselves and to focus on loving. For caterpillars this meant that they did a lot of hugging – well actually caterpillars don’t hug, they curl. They really are good curlers!

I won’t spoil the whole story for you … but just to say at some point they had to make a big decision. It was full of risk. The decision terrified them both. They had to give up the only life they knew in the hope of a new life they barely thought possible and yet somehow they could not give up the belief that it was possible. They had to die … in order to live more fully — yes even fly.

For me this is the most beautiful and clear picture of the new life that Jesus invites us into when he invites us to walk in his ways. It is a huge risk and it is terrifying. It involves dying to oneself and giving ourselves to each other in love. Just the idea bubbles with promise within my belly — how about yours?

In today’s Covenant Service we are invited to risk giving up our lives for Love’s sake. When we do we die. When we do we are re-born. When we do, we soar like on the wings of eagles … or is it butterflies?

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

“I shall look at the world through tears.
Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see.
The tears streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would,
making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested.”

– St Augustine

 

 

Why judge?

Why judge?

January 25, 2015  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Why judge?

Grace and Peace to you

Jesus said: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you make you will be judged and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” Mathew 7:1-6

I can’t tell you how often I hear people quoting this scripture — well parts of it at least — especially the first three words: “Do not judge…”

I hear it most often used in response to someone who makes their opinion known about some or other matter. The “do not judge” comment tends to silence the objecting opinion as if we should not judge whether something is right or wrong, but this was not Jesus’ intention at all. Sadly this false interpretation can result in us simply copping out from the responsibility to stand up to wrong doing. It can also be used to stop uncomfortable but necessary conversations from happening.

Jesus is not saying that we should stop discerning right from wrong. However, he is saying that we are never in a position to judge ourselves as better human beings than others.

Living with the truth that we are no better than anybody else should humble us but not silence us when we witness abuse or injustice or corruption taking place.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared
by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become
deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

~ Kate Compston

 

Recovery of Innocence

Recovery of Innocence

January 18, 2015  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Recovery of Innocence
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.  Psalm 139.


Grace and Peace to you

Some weeks leave us feeling a little more frazzled than others. You know that feeling when the thread that you have been meaning to cut gets hooked on the splintered side of the kitchen chair and the entire hem is pulled out before you can stop it? Well it has been one of those unravelling kind of weeks for me. I guess we all have them from time to time.

When I am feeling more threadbare than usual I am often drawn (sometimes it feels like I am being pushed) back to the bare basics of my life and the fundamentals of my faith. I return to what I know I can trust to hold my weight, especially when it feels I can’t.

The most concise summary of what I have come to trust to hold my weight is called the Principle and Foundation from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius which is not too dissimilar to our annual Covenant Service. A number of years ago I had the privilege to be led through the Exercises (which I don’t have space to explain now) suffice to say that the Principle and Foundation is both the root and the fruit of the entire spiritual journey. Each retreat participant is encouraged to express the Principle and Foundation in their own words. So here is what I trust holds the weight of my life … and yours:

  • God has freely created humanity in love, by love and for love, yet also with the freedom not to love, and for this, God is to be joyfully praised and humbly served.
  • God created the entire universe as a good place to experience God’s love and to exercise our own love, all for the purpose of becoming who God has already designed us to be.
  • Hence, we should appreciate and make use of everything that sets us free from the fear to grow in love and rid ourselves of everything that is a hindrance to this.
  • Therefore, we must hold all things loosely and with open hands. Consequently, as far as we are concerned we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honour to dishonour, a long life to a short life, but rather rejoice in all things.
  • From now on, our one desire and choice should be to love Christ and know the power of his resurrection and share his sufferings, whether by life or by death.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become
deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

~ Kate Compston

 

Fear casts out love

Fear casts out love

January 11, 2015  |  Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Fear casts out love

Grace and Peace to you

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;..” from 1 John 4:18. This insightful verse of Scripture warrants a lifetime of pondering.

If true, it allows us to make two further statements:

[1] Perfect fear casts out love.
[2] The opposite of love is not hate, but fear.

This then helps us to understand something of the loveless acts of terror that we witnessed in Paris this week.

Acts of terror are not rooted in a religion or a sacred text. They are not even rooted in hate. They rest in fear. Fear first! Only when a person or group of people feel fear-full will they be prepared to commit an act of terror. Feeling under threat justifies the need to “defend” ourselves, which is the second step towards terror. It is not long before “any means” is acceptable to defend ourselves, including pre-emptive measures which is step three and close to the final step which is to seek out a “blessing” for these measures from an accepted source of authority. This fourth step is where religion often comes into the picture. The aim is to find a sacred text that can be used to justify the decisions already made. This transforms (at least for those involved) hideous acts into holy deeds.

Fear is the motivating factor and religion or an ideology of sorts is the justifying factor. With these two factors in place terror is unleashed and the innocent casualties will be put down to the accepted arithmetic of war.

If we want to reduce terror in the world we must ask who is terrified and why, and seek to address the causes of that fear. We can start by refusing to live in fear ourselves as the Bible continually commands us to “Fear not!”

Gandhi knew this, he said: “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.”

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

~ Kate Compston

Images:
Break one, a thousand will rise: Lucille Clerc
A call to arms: Francisco J. Olea

 
Justice, mercy and humility

Justice, mercy and humility

December 28, 2014  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Justice, mercy and humility

CMM’s latest Yellow Banner mounted on the steeple!


Grace and Peace to you

Every Sunday newsletter carries the words from Micah 6:8 “What the Lord requires of us: To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God”. The prophet Micah sums up the purpose of life perfectly. It really is as simple and as difficult as that.

Jesus certainly took this to heart. If we look at Jesus’ living and teaching — it all fits into these three ways of being. If we are not sure about this “God stuff”, do as Micah says and God will smile. If we question what we should be doing with our one little life or find our living meaningless then following Micah’s advice should do the trick.

As 2014 turns to 2015 we are given another opportunity to pause and reflect on what we are doing with our time and our life. To explore how we can act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God more faithfully in the coming year is at the core of the being a follower of Jesus.

To act justly is to learn and name the ways that social, political, economic and religious systems oppress; to work to transform them, refusing to give in to apathy or cynicism. It is to believe that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word” – MLK.

To love mercy is to live in solidarity with those who are marginalised, despised, forgotten and ignored. Those that society considers to be the least. To offer relief and healing for those suffering and who carry upon themselves the sin of the world. To live out the truth that we are all family.

To walk humbly with God is to embrace practices of prayer, meditation, fasting, confession, Bible study, spiritual direction, recovery and therapy; to be sustained by the God made known in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

Kate Compston

Jesus is human and divine

Jesus is human and divine

December 21, 2014  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Jesus is human and divine

Art as Resistance: By Molly Crabapple


Grace and Peace to you

If the incarnation teaches us anything, it is that we will see Jesus’ divinity through his humanity or not at all. Only as we take the human hand of Jesus will we discover by grace that we have been holding the hand of the Divine. To approach Jesus as the Divine without first engaging his humanity will cause us to miss both his humanity and divinity.

Similarly, I am convinced that we would understand the Gospels more fully (or at least differently) if we read scripture as if it were not scripture. I say this because the minute we relate to it as “Holy Scripture” we read with a certain “spiritual” lens. This more often than not tames the passage by uprooting it from its original context. Often it catapults it into a “heavenly” future leaving the earth untouched and untransformed, which is quite the opposite of how the original audience would have received it.

Take for example the psalm equivalent for this Sunday — what is known as The Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel. If we were to come across this in say the Mail and Guardian, surely the words would sound different to reading them in Luke 1:46-55. In the Mail and Guardian the words sound like the radical freedom song it is intended to be.

‘And Mary said, ‘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. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant [South Africa], in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

This passage engages with issues which include: the awesome dignity of women; the corrupting quality of wealth and power; the hoped-for liberation of the oppressed and marginalised. These were the themes of Jesus’ childhood instruction from his mom.

Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

We lighted the first candle of Advent,
To signal our watch for the coming of Christ, who will expel the spirit of discontent and bring healing for the nations.

We lighted the second candle of Advent,
To signal our hope for the renewal of creation, which will reveal the image of God and restore harmony with nature.

We lighted the third candle of Advent,
To signal our faith in the triumph of justice, which will expose the folly of pride and magnify purity of heart.

Today we have lighted the last candle of Advent,
To signal our trust in the promise of God, who will establish the reign of love on earth and uphold it with justice and mercy for evermore.

So be it.

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.