Rewilding

 

Friends,

I heard the term ‘wild Christianity’ this week. As much as I found it intriguing, I thought it was also sad. For to preface the word Christianity with ‘wild’ is to admit that there is a Christianity that isn’t wild. A bit like prefacing the word ‘theology’ with the word ‘liberation’. If theology isn’t liberating can we really call it theology? But I get it, not all that is called Christianity is wild and not all that is called theology is liberating, therefore the need for one or other adjective to highlight what is now missing.

Even though ‘tame Christianity’ is an oxymoron, the taming of what commonly passes as Christianity cannot be denied. The wild of Christianity is tamed when control replaces curiosity as the primary spiritual value of community and where order and efficiency show freedom and wonder-wandering the door. The wildness of Christianity is most often traded-in for acceptance at the table of the powerful and privileged. At this table holiness is defined by uniformity according to strict criteria of sameness. Here everyone proudly declares: “We are one because we are the same”.  Throughout the ages Jesus has made it his business to rewild these tables. In fact he has been known to wildly overturn them. For those of us who covet sameness – we have been warned.

On Friday I was gifted with an opportunity to join in a tea* ceremony in one of the newly occupied shop spaces belonging to CMM. I have been asked what a tea ceremony is. Well, I am not sure, except to say …tea is made with love, poured with love, served with love and then sipped with love in the hope of tasting love. Anyway, for the tea ceremony Derek Gripper played his guitar … as always … in love, by love and for love.

Afterward he explained a little of the history of the tea ceremony. Its origins of simplicity only later to be tamed within a stiff fancy orderliness. He spoke too about how the guitar as an instrument had also been tamed over time. Originally it was an instrument for the bar and pub that would never have been allowed to (dis)grace a concert hall. Similar to the history of Methodist hymns that originated in pubs sung by less than sober beer drinkers and now tamed by Sunday choirs in suit and tie.

The once wild, now tame, needs rewilding. Of this environmentalists (https://www.rewildingmag.com) say Amen.

Today we join together as a community to renew our Covenant with the un-tame-able God. These Covenanting words truly are wild. I do fear that our familiarity with them however, may have tamed them. And so I pray that the Spirit that blows where it wills, comes and rewilds this Covenant in our hearts today.

With grace,
Alan

*Hibiscus tea from Burkino Fasso in memory and celebration of Malidoma Some who wrote “Of water and the spirit.”

 

THE COVENANT

Beloved in Christ, let us once again claim for ourselves this Covenant which God has made with God’s people, and take upon us the yoke of Christ.

To take Jesus’ yoke upon us means that we are content for him to appoint us our place and work, and himself to be our reward.

Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both; in some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.

Therefore let us make this Covenant of God our own. Let us give ourselves to God, trusting in God’s promises and relying on God’s grace.

Lord God, Holy Lord, since you have called us through Christ to share in this gracious Covenant, we take upon ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience and, for the love of you, engage ourselves to seek and do your perfect will.

We are no longer our own but yours. I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering*; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I fully and freely yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the Covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

*Please note: The traditional words, “Put me to doing, put me to suffering,” do not mean that we ask God to make us suffer. Rather, they express our desire to do any faithful act regardless of whether there is suffering involved.

 

Being Peace

Friends,

Today I celebrate the life and teaching of the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. A monk from age 16 until his death last week at age 95.

In 1989 my uncle gave me a book by Thich Nhat Hanh. The book: Being Peace. From each page a distilled wisdom flows. Poetic and parable-like. Each syllable soaked in years of silence. His simple words reach into the depths of human longing and the earth’s groaning.

He writes, “Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects.” Nhat Hanh draws our attention to a child’s smile as “the most basic kind of peace” and then a moment later on the same page he names the horror of 40 000 children dying of hunger each day and superpowers who have enough nuclear warheads to destroy our planet many times – making “humankind the most dangerous species on earth”.

Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist practice is one of engagement and not escape. He acknowledged that there were so many things that made him want to withdraw, but “my practice helps me remain in society, because I am aware that if I leave society, I will not be able to help change it.” He continues, “I hope that those who are practicing Buddhism succeed in keeping their feet on earth, staying in society. That is our hope for peace.” We could describe Nhat Hanh’s “engaged Buddhism” as being “in the world, but not of the world”.

This spirituality of engagedness is in convicting contrast to much of what passes as Buddhist practice in the West today. Similar to how today’s dominant individualistic consumer culture has co-opted much of Christianity, the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, who some critics now insightfully call “McMindfulness” has sadly also been co-opted.

Nhat Hanh’s way of justice, mercy and humility is rooted in the reality life’s interconnectedness. A reality he refers to as “interbeing”. Speaking with deepened “Ubuntu” tone, he explains: “In one sheet of paper, we see everything else, the cloud, the forest, the logger. I am, therefore you are. You are, therefore I am.” In other words, not only is it true that what we do to our neighbour we do to ourselves, but what we do to the tree or mountain or river or sky, we do to ourselves and each other. Therefore it is not surprising that reverence for Life – all Life – is at the heart of his mindfulness training.

Included in this amazing book is Thich Nhat Hanh’s incredible poem: Please Call Me By My True Names. A poem that invites us to wake up to the truth of who we are. From the reality of “interbeing” we are all victim and perpetrator. The urgency to do justice, love mercifully and walk humbly will grow to the extent that we wake up to this reality.

After I finished reading Being Peace, I was convinced that Jesus would say, Amen – so be it. I believe Jesus would encourage his followers to drink deeply from the living waters of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching.

Here are a few other books you may want to explore.

Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully invites us to be present to the most ordinary aspects of our living. Sitting, walking and eating. See his series on How to

Another amazing book is the conversation Nhat Hanh has with Jesuit monk Daniel Berrigan, the justice and peace activist who challenges a tamed and co-opted Christianity to return to the radical steps of Jesus. (Bell Hooks, another voice of justice and life who died in December 2021 writes the forward.)

And finally I include a devastatingly beautiful novel written by Thich Nhat Hahn, called The Novice.

With grace,
Alan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towering Tutu’s Foundation

Friends,

In the last week more than one person has described Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a “towering” human being. Towering in integrity, courage, wisdom and mercy. Tall towers are dependent on deep foundations to keep standing. This was equally true for Tutu. His public life of prophetic action and courage was under-pinned by his private life of prayer and contemplation. His life was one of daily discipline. May his example inspire us to shape our own days with greater deliberateness to nurture our inner life so that our outer life may stretch to new heights of integrity, courage, wisdom and mercy. Here is a summary of Tutu’s daily practice:

04:00 – Personal prayers (weekdays)

05:00 – Fast 30 minute walk or slow jog

05:30 – Shower

06:00 – Devotional reading / reflection

07:30 – Recite formal Morning Prayer in chapel

08:00 – Daily Eucharist

08:30 – Breakfast (a glass of orange juice)

09:00 – Office work / appointments

11:00 – Tea break (again at 15:30)

11:00 – Office work / appointments

13:00 – Personal prayer

13:30 – Lunch and hour-long nap

15:00 – Office work / appointments

15:30 – Tea break

18:00 – Evening prayer in chapel

19:00 – A drink (usually a rum and coke) and supper at home

21:00 – In bed by 21:00 or 22:00

23:00 – Asleep (after Compline prayers)

“In addition to his daily prayers, Tutu fasted until supper on Fridays and observed a “quiet day” every month and a seven-day silent retreat once a year. During Lent he ate only in the evenings.

It soon became apparent to the staff of Bishopscourt that Tutu ebullient extrovert and Tutu the meditative priest who needed six or seven hours a day in silence were two sides of the same coin. One could not exist without the other: in particular, his extra-ordinary capacity to communicate with warmth, compassion, and humour depended on the regeneration of personal resources, which in turn depended on the iron self-discipline of his prayers.”

[Summarised from: Rabble-Rouser for Peace – The Authorised Biography of Desmond Tutu. By: John Allen. Pages 174/5]

Grace,
Alan

 

Celebrating Archbishop Emeritus Tutu

Today we celebrate the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who died a few hours ago.

We give thanks for his life lived in faithful partnership with God
to heal this broken world:

A life shaped by the character of Jesus.
A life of compassion and justice.
A life of truth and forgiveness.

Archbishop Tutu put flesh on the words from today’s reading from Colossians 3:12-17

We have a special Yellow Banner that was raised earlier today
in the Archbishop’s honour.

I include a line to a most beautiful and appropriate “hymn” to mark this day:
“It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world…”
(Mary Oliver)

Deep peace, Alan