Shadow and Light

Shadow and Light

March 22, 2015  |  Lent  |  Comments Off on Shadow and Light

Grace and Peace to you

Last week we explored a little bit of Jungian psychology in the sermon. It went something like this: Where there is light there is also shadow. The brighter the light the deeper the shadow. In other words we cannot make light without a corresponding darkness. For Jung the light was the conscious and the shadow was our unconscious. It is important to note that the shadow is not all negative – it includes both negative and positive – yet simply that which has been cut off from our consciousness for whatever reason – quite often to conform to our surrounding culture.

Sadly many of us have grown up with an understanding that in order to be holy we must delete (which often means deny) the ‘bad’ within us. But it is impossible to cut off the shadow (as pointless as trying to run away from our own shadow!). True holiness is the owning and embracing of our shadow. This is why if we read the journals of those who we call Saints, they write extensively about their shadow – they own it – and in so doing they don’t have any need to project it onto anyone else causing great harm – thus they are Saints.

Jung also taught us that the unconscious cannot discern the difference between a real act and a symbolic one which is good news because it means that we can honour our shadow (because it demands to be honoured as much as its corresponding light) in symbolic ways.

Good theology makes for good psychology! Every week we move through an order of service that helps us own and honour our shadow. We always start by acknowledging the great grace of God that then frees us to be bold to explore our dark side which we do through confession. Confession is nothing short of bringing to consciousness that which we are most inclined to deny and delete. The Cross is the ultimate sign of our shadow side – as we projected our sin onto Jesus. Churches that exclude confession from their worship or who leave the Cross out of the sanctuary in the hope to make the congregation feel as comfortable as possible, perpetuate the unhealthy denial of our shadow. We will be doomed to project it onto others and in the process causing enormous harm. The aim of confession is not about guilt as much as it is about grief. We are invited to grieve the death within us and what we cause around us. It is grace that will bring us to grief and grace that will bring us through grief to joy.

Grace, Alan

Sunday’s Prayer

March 16, 2015  |  Prayer  |  Comments Off on Sunday’s Prayer

Click on this link Prayers March 15, 2015 if you wish to download this prayer.


Prayers: March 15, 2015

Living God source of life, receive our breath as our praise.

We breathe-in your grace and we breathe-out our gratitude.

Grace and gratitude. Grace and gratitude.

We breathe because you have first breathed into us.

Yours is the creative breath that hovered over the formless void drawing creation from the chaos.

Yours is the liberating breath that held up the waters enabling slaves to secure freedom on dry ground.

Yours is the inspiring breath that spoke courage into the heart of a trembling prophet with a silent whisper.

Yours is the comforting breath that covered the distressed and grief stricken disciples with peace.

We know this to be true not only from the testimony of the scriptures but from the experience of our own lives:

When we have made a mess of our lives – we give thanks for how you are able to take our chaos and make something meaningful out of it and even beautiful.

When we find ourselves captive – locked in behind the bars of bitterness or resentment; denial or despair; prejudice or pride; grief or fear you break-in to be with us until we are able to trust that your mercy has already unlocked our prison.

When we compromise our integrity we thank you for whispering the truth to us fanning our conscience into flame once again.

When we are lost in loss. When our own breath is weak, we thank you for breathing over us in ways that resurrect us filling us with hope again.

All this you do without charge. But not without cost.

Remind us Lord that it cost Jesus his life.

Remind us that though we longed for the light we loved the darkness too much to let it go.

Remind us that we needed to be rescued.

Remind us that Jesus would stop at nothing until we were free and that not even the threat of death could distract him from this liberating work you set him.

Remind us that we are somehow complicit in Jesus’ killing. Help us to see that it wasn’t just someone else at some other time who was responsible, but that it is each of us. That the evil we do and the good we do not do are not without divine consequence. Give us insight into how this is so. Introduce us to Judas within us – for where we forsake Jesus for money. Introduce us to Peter within us – for when we deny Jesus for fear. Introduce us to Pilate within us – for when we have Jesus whipped to please the crowd. Introduce us to the hammer and nail carrying soldiers within us – when we simply follow orders without question.

Help us to see that we are not innocent.

Fill us not so much with guilt as with grief. Help us to see that the pathways of our sin are death – within us and around us. Open our eyes to see the extent of the death that we are responsible for. Give us not only the desire but the means to turn towards your ways that lead to life in all its fullness.

Come and roll the stone away that prevents us from living faithfully – for we don’t have the strength to do so. Breathe on us until we come alive for you in all things. Address us with your peace that restores our relationship with you. Call us now to follow you as you did in the beginning, reminding us that we still can.

Amen.

15 March 2015.

Jesus is the way

Jesus is the way

March 15, 2015  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Jesus is the way

Grace and Peace to you

We are fast approaching Holy Week. As usual we will begin this final week of Lent with the showing of a movie on Palm Sunday evening (29 March). Our Holy Week journey to the Cross and Empty Tomb will include evening reflections on The Jesus Way. The basis for our reflections will be Eugene Peterson’s book entitled: “The Jesus Way” — a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way.

Peterson writes: “The world as such has no interest in following the crucified King. Not that there isn’t plenty of lip-service offered along the way across a spectrum ranging from presidents to pastors. But when it comes down to an actual way of life, most of the language turns out to be court protocol — nothing to do with the way we actually order our affairs. Those of us who understand ourselves as followers of Jesus seem to be particularly at risk of discarding Jesus’ ways and adopting the world’s ways when we are given a job to do or mission to accomplish, when we are supposed to get something done “in Jesus’ name”. Getting things done is something that the world is very good at doing. We hardly notice that these ways and means have been worked out by men and women whose ambitions and values and strategies for getting things done in this world routinely fail the “in Jesus’ name” test. Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ ways, it doesn’t take us long to realise that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else.”


During the week of 29 March — 5 April we are invited to be attentive to the intensity of Jesus final days. To help us keep focused, I encourage us to fast during this week. Our fast can take various forms. We could change when we eat, what we eat and how much we eat. The purpose of fasting is not to self-justify ourselves but rather to tune ourselves into the remarkableness of Jesus’ journey.

Grace, Alan

Marked by Ashes

Marked by Ashes

March 8, 2015  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Marked by Ashes

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given,
or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness
and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day,
for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around
on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with some confidence,
only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

~ Walter Brueggemann

 

We are grateful to Lee Slabber for the picture.

Wade into the Psalms

Wade into the Psalms

March 1, 2015  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Wade into the Psalms

Grace and Peace to you

Last week we reflected on the Psalms. Psalm 25 to be specific. We noted that Psalms are better pondered than preached. They are best prayed or sung than read. There is a depth to Psalms that cannot be known, explained or explored by reading them as mere prose. They must be felt to be understood. We need open hearts and not simply alert minds.

They demand that we drill down into the words and not merely brush their letters on the surface. The Psalmist cries “Deep cries to deep”. And that is how it is. We are most often drawn to the Psalms when we find ourselves in the depths. And I can say with confidence that the Psalms will always be able to go the deep distance with us. They will never forsake us to our darkness.

Strange that what brings us comfort through the Psalms (most of them anyway) is not the voice of God addressing us but the voice of the Psalmist addressing God. We find comfort in the rawness of the truth spoken. We find courage in knowing that we are not alone — that another has tread this path before us. The Psalms give us permission to speak what we would otherwise think is unthinkable or blasphemous. This was true for Jesus too who turned to Psalms in his distress from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Psalm 22:1].

This Lent we are invited to seek silence — to contemplate our faith and life. This is the cry of Lent to each of us. The Psalms are a wise companion in introducing us to our human condition.

Go on, wade into the Psalms and don’t come out until you are drenched.

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

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

Tribute to Roy Smith

February 20, 2015  |  Tribute  |  Comments Off on Tribute to Roy Smith

Themba Mntambo – minister at CMM from 2004 until 2008 – paid the following tribute to Roy.


Roy Smith, one of the best human beings I have ever met in my life. A person with a deep understanding of human life, its weakness and frailty, its feebleness and fickleness, its darkness and ugliness. Yet never ever dwelt on those. He chose to see the other side; strength and boldness, resilience and fortitude, light and glory. With Roy, every human being deserved respect, dignity, love and care. He would not bow and scrape to power and authority, he would honour and respect those who had it, but more than that, he would rather bow and scrape to those who did not have it, so that they may, for those moments he met them and they met him, feel just as powerful, just as strong as those who already had it.

He would walk across to me every Sunday and say “the view was great on Chapman’s Peak this morning”, inviting me to join him in cycling. Much as I tried to ignore him, he persisted until I bought a bike and started cycling – I can remember, I can almost see the light on his face when I let him know that I had bought a bike, the helmet, the top and shorts. He invited me to join him “on the road”. Then I called him “coach”. He was there with me, giving me tips, guiding me through traffic, always encouraging and helpful, certainly enjoying time on the road, side by side with his own convert to cycling.

He walked across to me one Sunday and declared “we need to have a singing group together”. So we got together, a small group of men to sing: When I survey the wondrous cross (the Welsh version), Ntyilo, Ntyilo (a South African Jazz song), Maria (from West Side Story), Roy was the leader, the coach, always encouraging, always inspiring, giving and sharing his gifts and talents. We sang well because Roy led us well.

He walked across to me, every Sunday, “that was a great sermon, thank you…” Even when I knew it was not so great, he knew that I tried my best. For him it was not so much the perfect end product that was important, it was the great effort put into the task that impressed him most. After such affirmation and encouragement, would anyone not seek to do better, would anyone wish to let him down? No, no one wanted to let him down. I knew where he and Rae sat on Sundays; right at the back or thereabouts. One could cast one’s eye in that direction and there he was, listening intently, in order to find something in what the preacher said that would enable him to say “that was a great sermon, thank you”.

I was his pastor, he was my friend. He had a great sense of humour, he could laugh; he never laughed at people, he laughed with people. He loved his family, was proud of all of them. Rae, he was all these things to me, I know he was much more to you; he was everything! You were everything to him too! He would walk across to me and say’ “Rae baked some bread yesterday; you must come over and taste her bread”. I did one day, and I never stopped asking for your bread… You were the perfect hostess in your home, he was the perfect host. Together you made everyone in your home the perfect guest. We will miss Roy; I know you will miss him more. I pray that you will know God’s comfort and love at this time. Post Tenebras Lux (After darkness, light).

Grace and Peace
Themba Mntambo
18th February 2015

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