Longing for newness

Longing for newness

December 31, 2017  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Longing for newness

Grace and peace to you

Time does what time does: it ticks on. Time ticks and dates click over, but New Year is not really about dates and times. New Year is about an inner longing within each of us. That longing is for newness. We long for more than a calendar change – we want our lives to change. We want our relationships to heal and deepen. We want our neighbourhoods and world to be peaceful and just. Even those of us who refuse to make any resolutions don’t escape this longing.

The first day of a new year is like a new page in a schoolchild’s exercise book. Crisp and clean inviting us to be a little neater than we were the year before. The empty page dares us to be creative and generously calls us to make a mark – our mark. It also boldly promises to hold whatever we throw at it. Surely a child pauses, be it even for a split second, in the realisation of the wonder and expectation of the blank page? So it should be for us today.

Below are two Jewish prayers that promise to stir our inner longing for newness at this time.

Grace,
Alan


Days pass and the years vanish and we walk
sightless among miracles.

Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds
with knowing.

Let there be moments when your presence,
like lightening, illuminates the darkness in
which we walk.

Help us to see wherever we gaze,
that the bush burns unconsumed

And that we, clay touched by God, will reach out
for holiness and exclaim in wonder

‘How filled with awe is this place and
we did not know it’.

   ~ Mishkan Tefilah – from the Jewish Sabbath Prayer Book.

 

On Rosh HaShanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed:

That this year people will live and die,
some more gently than others
and nothing lives forever.
But amidst overwhelming forces
of nature and humankind,
we still write our own Book of Life,
and our actions are the words in it,
and the stages of our lives are the chapters,
and nothing goes unrecorded, ever.
Every deed counts.
Everything you do matters.
And we never know what act or word
will leave an impression or tip the scale.
So, if not now, then when?
For the things that we can change, there is t’shuvah, realignment,
For the things we cannot change, there is t’filah, prayer,
For the help we can give, there is tzedakah, justice.
Together, let us write a beautiful Book of Life
for the Holy One to read.

~ Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler

 

 

 

 

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

 

Christ Reigns

Christ Reigns

November 26, 2017  |  Christ the King Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Christ Reigns

Grace and peace to you

Today is the “Reign of Christ” Sunday marking the end of the Christian year. Today liturgically / symbolically invites us to trust that after all is said and done Christ will reign on high. Put differently, it means that everything Jesus believed in and gave his life for will win in the end: love will face down fear, truth will win the race against the lies and justice will satisfy the hungry. Mercy will be without measure and the gentle will finally inherit the earth.

We have seen evidence of this in the past couple of days. Oppressors fall (and fall asleep!) while the God who neither sleeps nor slumbers fans the flames of freedom within the human hearts of the dispossessed. And the Spirit hovers over our imaginations with new visions of what justice and peace really look like. What was whispered is now declared from the rooftops. That which was feared is now laughed at. What was covered up is exposed. This is true in neighbouring Zimbabwe as it will be true once more in our own land. The final score will be in Jesus’ favour.

Knowing the end score before the end of the game en-courage-s us to be bold and faithful, especially when all the evidence suggests that a loss is inevitable. Knowing justice and truth and freedom will win encourages us to follow the light while it is still dark and speak-up while many still whisper in fear. The end in Jesus’ favour demands we stay in the game and not forsake the field where justice and mercy are being contested. None of us know when the final whistle will blow just as a few weeks ago no one on the planet could foresee the resignation of Robert Mugabe this past week… and besides it is not for us to know dates and times of end whistles.

We must not be naïve though. This game is not a friendly. The fight is fierce. The stakes are high. There have been casualties and sadly there will be more. Listen to how Prof. Njabulo Ndebele – an academic and chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Foundation – describes the desperate state of South Africa today:

“The government that was elected to act according to, support and promote law, order and constitutional rule, has abdicated that responsibility. It has itself become a thief that steals… Under this government, syndicated thieving has become the very purpose of government, because government has become an instrument that protects itself from the consequences of its own transgressions.”

It is against this tragic truth that we dare to proclaim Christ Reigns.

Grace,
Alan

Training our eyes not to avoid...

Training our eyes not to avoid…

November 19, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Training our eyes not to avoid…

The African proverb, “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers most,” speaks of the reality of who ends up crushed in the midst of conflict and war. So often, it is the ones Jesus calls us to, the poor. With so much going on in our own context, it is easy to keep our eyes turned inward, but there are conflicts in the world from time to time that create an imperative for the eyes of all the world to turn.

Right now, there is a humanitarian crisis arising the likes of which the world has not witnessed in years.

Mark Lowcock, from the UN names that the famine in Yemen “will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year where tens of thousands of people were affected. It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011. It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.” The most tragic reality is that this famine will be man-made.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and the people there rely on imported food items in order to survive. Because of the ongoing Civil War, air, land, and seaports have been closed. Humanitarian aid cannot reach the people who are in need of it desperately. They have already experienced the worst cholera epidemic in modern history, with 1 million people expected to be affected before the year ends. International donors are sending money in, but “humanitarian groups say any additional international aid is only a stopgap and have called for a political solution to end the war,” says Megan Palin.

Yemen is 6,354 kilometers away. It is too far for many to travel, but not too far to move to the center of our prayers, the center of the universe within our minds that we might be learning all we can about the realities for the people in Yemen, so that we can join the voices of the humanitarian agencies that are calling for the gates to be opened that aid might get in.

There is light enough in the love of God for more than one place in this world. We turn our eyes to the world in order that we might not lose compassion. Sharon Salzberg shares that, “compassion is the strength that rises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly with all the skill at our disposal.”

To think that there are people 6,354 kilometers away on the brink of starvation, for being caught like the grass between elephants, only they are between other humans in conflict, humans who have allowed their hunger and thirst for power to desensitize them to the reality of others right in their midst. It is hard to keep our eyes trained on violence that leads to senseless death, but our common humanity requires it. May we be strengthened to hold in our hearts compassion enough for all the world, that leads us to action in the places where we are drawn to stand.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Reading Scripture as Poetry

Reading Scripture as Poetry

November 12, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Reading Scripture as Poetry

Grace and peace to you

On Wednesday evenings a group of us gather in the hall for prayer practice. Our practice involves sitting together in silence for 30 minutes. Thereafter we practice stretching our imaginations by reflecting on a poem or two.

Learning to read poetry helps us to read scripture because both fiercely engage our imagination. Poetic imagination and “prophetic imagination” are close cousins. The first helps us practice the second. What the poet does with language under poetic license the prophet does with society under divine calling. Both unpick the locks that hold our sense of the possible captive. Both invite us with all of creation to be born afresh. Poets like prophets know that “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein.

Last week we reflected on the poetic blessing (above) by John O’Donohue. In each verse this Irish poet gives us a task and a gift. Or more like a task that is a gift and a gift that is a task. Here is another one of his poems to prayerfully ponder. [Note: we don’t have to “get it” all in one go. Nibble on the juicy bits first, trusting that once we get a taste of it the tougher bits may soften].

A Morning Offering

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.

All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.

I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

John O’Donohue
(From To Bless the Space Between Us)

Grace, Alan

 

 

Redemption Song

Redemption Song

November 5, 2017  |  All Saints Day, Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Redemption Song

Grace and Peace

One of the psalms set for today is Psalm 107. It is a “redemption song” that recounts the myriads of occasions of the Lord’s steadfast love delivering a despairing people. A people lost, wandering aimlessly in desert wastes. A people hungry and thirsty, about to faint with fatigue. A people sitting in darkness, unable to see and stand. A people locked in leg irons, prisoner to the past in the present. A people broken and bent by hard labour. A people sick and dying of disease. A people tossed about on stormy seas drenched in fear. But then, interspersed between the trauma and tragedy the psalmist sings: “They then cried to the Lord in their trouble, and the Lord saved them from their distress. Let them thank the Lord for the Lord’s steadfast love and wonderful works to humankind.”

This redemption song was sung to en-courage all the despairing to doggedly resist their despair. To ‘vasbyt’ and keep the faith, the hope and the love when doubt, despair and fear monopolised the evidence on hand. Singing of redemption past was more than a mere act of memory. It was a protest. It was to re-member it to the now. To sing of redemption past was to subversively plant redemption into the soil of the present that would break open a new future.

Redemption may sound like a religious word to our modern-day ears but long ago it meant being set free for the sake of the just-ordering of society where everyone had enough and none was superior or inferior to the other.

As we witness “things fall apart …” in our present days, one redemption song we must not tire to sing into the present is that of our Constitution. Yes, our Constitution is a redemption song. The preamble of which encapsulates so succinctly and contextually the gospel’s call for redemption: the just and merciful ordering of society. It was written in the wake of what many called a miracle. A miracle because many thought it was impossible. As it was written before the cement of what was possible and impossible could set, it calls us to imagine again what some have stopped believing is possible in SA today: a truly just land and healed people. God’s steadfast love has not given up on us. Our past tells us the impossible is possible…again…and again. We must keep singing our redemption song:

We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to

  • Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
  • Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
  • Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
  • Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations. May God protect
    our people.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.
God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika.
Hosi katekisa Afrika.

Alan

Amazwi Wethu

Amazwi Wethu

October 29, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Amazwi Wethu

It’s distressing that a march has to be organized to put before us the importance of improving education for children. Will it take another Soweto uprise to create the pressure needed for deeper engagement in the struggle? Friday afternoon, concerned citizens of Cape Town marched to the Parliament building. The march was organized by Equal Education, an NGO that describes themselves as a movement of learners, parents, and teachers striving for quality and equality in South African education through analysis and activism. They are organizers for change, working so that every child might enjoy the right due to them, simply to learn.

“Amazwi Wethu,” means our voices in isiXhosa. Where are our voices? Where are our cries? That communities have to form walking school buses to keep children safe on their way to school, that school aged children are being recruited to deal drugs on the campuses, that the infrastructures of some are in incredible disrepair, that the resources of some are limited, that the teachers of some are not resourced for the work, that young girls stay home for lack of access to feminine products in the communities of some…it is time for our voices to be heard saying, “enough!”

Edward Everett Hale is quoted as saying:

I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
And I will not let what I cannot do interfere
with what I can do.

So often, when ideas are lifted up, an inordinate amount of time will be spent discussing all the reasons why a particular idea won’t work. This way of engagement is what I have come to call a symptom of the intellectualized faith of our day and age. We can become paralyzed in our action, by the thoughts that war within our minds. There is no better example of this, than the current water crisis in the Western Cape. One can spend hours debating all the things that won’t work and never leave people with the one thing they can do that will make a difference. In the end, we might allow our intellect to be on display, but what about the ground and its thirst? We cannot make a difference in every situation in the world, but each of us can do something. Can’t we work to do something for the children of this generation and the generations to come, that they might have an opportunity simply to learn in environments organized in the best possible way?

The movement being organized by Equal Education is a call for system change within the system that delivers education to children. The system is off line if it is not working for all, so it is time for engagement in the work of making it right. If we are not a system person, we sometimes want to leave system issues to system people. With no Mandela, Gandhi, or MLK Jr in our day and age, the changers of the system for the world’s children is each of us.

Oh, that every child might have such an advocate, the voice of all the people on their side! Oh, that we might witness the day when NGO’s like Equal Education are shut down not for lack of resources, but for lack of need. Where are our voices, Amazwi Whethu, for the children of this city, this country, this world? If we struggle with the leaders of this day, let us be about the business of rising up new leaders in the children of this world, that they might continue in the work of shining light upon the places where the residue of apartheid continues to divide.

To join Equal Education’s movement: https://equaleducation.org.za

With you on the journey,
Michelle