In Growing Wonder

Friends,

Anne Dufourmantelle in her book Power of Gentleness, writes in the final chapter that is entitled: A Gentle Revolution:

“It is sometimes inadvertently that a revolution takes place. An effect of extreme gentleness, barely different from other moments, and then life suddenly catches fire, is ablaze. But burning with inexplicable gentleness. As if suddenly you were taken by the hand along a precipice and needed not only to walk along the edge but to dance, and yes, you dance without fear or vertigo as if the very space took refuge in you, and then as if, upon arriving on the other side, everything had changed, but without violence. Is the intimate revolution of this kind?”

She then goes on to tell a short story of a young Italian soldier. It is a story of surprising ordinariness, “barely different from other moments”, yet I find myself reading and re-reading it with a growing sense of wonder. With each reading it “suddenly catches fire” and the “surprise holds” me.

A young Italian was drafted into the army during the First World War. For months he hid in the mountains with his comrades. They had almost no provisions left. The order was to defend the mountain pass at any cost. Feeling a sense of absurdity that he tried to hide from the others, he kept a journal. One night he noticed the movement of troops in the pass on the other side of the cliffs separating the narrow valley, and he thought that all was lost. The offensive would occur the very next day, that much was certain, and he knew he and his comrades would not have enough ammunition. That night, without his comrades knowing, he decided to venture as close as possible to the enemy camp. Halfway there he almost turned back; he heard a song rising from a gramophone. The surprise held him. He was so moved by it that he decided to come forward until he was seen in the open, a sign of surrender in his hand. He was captured immediately and brought to the officer of the German army. The record was still playing. They both knew the tune. The voice that rose from the recording had an unusual gentleness. The German officer talked with this man all night. Risking everything, the Italian explained the position of his troops, their certain death, and put their fate completely in his hands. The German officer let him leave in the morning. And he never launched the attack. He went in the direction of another valley, leaving them time to withdraw and make their escape. This is a story of gentleness.

This story involves no less wonder than sipping wine from a water-filled-cup and no less surprise than the Creator of the cosmos “contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man” (Charles Wesley).

The epicentre of the story’s surprising wonder lies deep beneath the surface of expectation. “Their certain death” escapes certainty. The story’s surprise rests in what does not happen rather than what does happen just like a tree spared from the woodcutters axe. The tree stands today as it did yesterday. Nothing has changed and yet everything is different. The tree, though rooted in the same soil is now rooted in a new story. The story of what could have been, but wasn’t. The tree, though not dead, inherits the wonder of new life.

So it is with the soldiers. Though not dead, they too inherit new life. This new life is birthed out of a gentle revolution. A gentle revolution that involves radical risk taking, courageous vulnerability and musical invitation that travels over enemy lines and creeps beneath ideological uniforms to build a bridge between enemy hearts.

I share this story of gentle revolution with you at this time in the hope that it can help us to see the Christmas story as one of gentle revolution that catches fire precisely because of its surprising ordinariness: A peasant girl giving birth to a baby in poverty, yet held by the musical invitation of God’s loving favour.

In growing wonder,
Alan

 

Do time differently

“Do not let me be put to shame …”

Psalm 25:2

 

Friends,

Today is Advent. Advent is the start of the Christian calendar. The Christian calendar invites us to do time differently. Instead of seasons or seconds determining our time, Advent calls us to re-set our lives to the clock of Jesus’ character of justice, mercy and humility. Advent is the grace-full invitation to start over. To begin again, to prepare for Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ coming is the coming of love and truth in the flesh.

Advent asks each of us: How do we prepare for the coming of love and truth in our lives and world?

Here is a prayer and poem to help us wrestle with this Advent question…

With grace,
Alan

 

A prayer…

“We carry old secrets too painful to utter,
too shameful to acknowledge,
too burdensome to bear,
of failures we cannot undo,
of alienations we regret but cannot fix,
of grandiose exhibits we cannot curb.

And you know them.
You know them all.

And so we take a deep sigh in your presence,
no longer needing to pretend and
cover up and
deny.
We mostly do not have big sins to confess,
only modest shames that do not
fit our hoped-for selves.

And then we find that your knowing is more
powerful than our secrets.

You know and do not turn away,
and our secrets that seemed too powerful
are emptied of strength,
secrets that seemed too burdensome
are now less severe.

We marvel that when you find us out
you stay with us,
taking us seriously,
taking our secrets soberly,
but not ultimately,
overpowering our little failure
with your massive love
and abiding patience.

We long to be fully, honestly
exposed to your gaze of gentleness.

In the moment of your knowing
we are eased and lightened,
and we feel the surge of joy move in our bodies,
because we are not ours in cringing
but yours in communion.

We are yours and find the truth before you
makes us free for
wonder, love, and praise—and new life.” 

Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People

 

A poem…

“Go gently today, don’t hurry 
or think about the next thing. Walk 
with the quiet trees, can you believe 
how brave they are—how kind? Model your life 
after theirs. Blow kisses 
at yourself in the mirror 

especially when 
you think you’ve messed up. Forgive 
yourself for not meeting your unreasonable 
expectations. You are human, not 
God—don’t be so arrogant. 

Praise fresh air 
clean water, good dogs. Spin 
something from joy. Open 
a window, even if 
it’s cold outside. Sit. Close 
your eyes. Breathe. Allow 

the river 
of it all to pulse 
through eyelashes 
fingertips, bare toes. Breathe in 
breathe out. Breathe until 

you feel 
your bigness, until the sun 
rises in your veins. Breathe 
until you stop needing 
anything 
to be different.”

Julia Fehrenbacher

 

A sanctuary for people

Sunday Sermon
2020 11 29 Alan Storey:
Advent-Attitude
Isaiah 64:2-9Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19Mark 13:24-37

 


Friends,

The restoration of the CMM sanctuary is now complete. This is due to the incredible generosity and hard work of so many people. No one has sought acknowledgement for their efforts in any way, and this makes the gifts received even more beautiful. Thank you therefore, not only for your generosity, but also for your humility.

We have tried our best to restore the beauty of the sanctuary and retain its simplicity. Beauty and simplicity are values in and of themselves and we trust that everyone who enters the sanctuary will experience this to be so. As people discover that the CMM sanctuary is a cared-for-space, may we always remember that we care for the space in order for it to care for people. The building exists for people, not people for the building.

When everything is sparkling clean, it is tempting to make it our main priority to keep it like this forever, but it is a sanctuary, not a museum. It is a sanctuary that keeps its doors open for all. A sanctuary where people, especially vulnerable people, are reminded of their exquisite beauty and priceless worth. A sanctuary where the poor hear good news, and the captives find release. A sanctuary that brings strangers together around a font of water – and declares by grace that everyone is one family. A sanctuary in which we find a table that welcomes all to the feast of fairness – as we all eat from one loaf and drink from the common cup. A sanctuary that we can return to over and over again when we are lost to find our bearings that rest on the most sacred truth: You are born in love, by love and for love.

Last Sunday, around the perimeter of the sanctuary, we planted what we hope will become a Spekboom Forest. May it be a sign of life and beauty and a reminder of the resurrection power of nature that we all depend on, yet seldom acknowledge – the transformation of carbon dioxide into oxygen.

We had hoped to celebrate in the Sanctuary by coming together this Sunday (29th November) which seemed appropriate on the first Sunday of Advent, but as a result of the very serious spike in Covid-19 cases in the Western Cape Metro, we have decided to delay all in-person activities. We will reassess this decision in the new year. In the meantime, we will continue to hold services via Zoom at 10 a.m. each Sunday. This will include the 10 a.m. Christmas Day Service. Please email: welcome@cmm.org.za to receive the zoom link.

Please take the Covid-19 pandemic seriously. I know we are tired of it, but the hospitals in the Metro are once again being stretched to capacity. Positive cases are increasing, and people are dying. Let us therefore limit time in crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. This means that we should all be re-thinking our Christmas and New Year gatherings to make sure that they do not become Covid-19 catalyst events.

Finally, don’t forget to practice the Trinity: 1] mask up, 2] wash hands and 3] physical distance by 1.5 m.

Grace, Alan

Refugee Update

December, 22 2019 Alan Storey: Birth by the Holy Spirit [Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25]


Since my last update, the situation in the church remains unchanged. It is nearly two months since refugees sought sanctuary inside CMM. It remains over-crowed and therefore continues to present a health and safety risk for everyone. This is especially true for the +100 children, half of whom are between the ages of a few months and a few years. Simply put, the conditions are not good for human habitation, not to mention the increased wear and tear of the church building and running expenses. The negative effect on the surrounding businesses and traders on the square also continues to be troublesome.

It is unlikely that a solution, acceptable to the refugees, is going to be found soon. In the meantime, alternative accommodation to the church is desperately needed. I said from the beginning that the Church is only a temporary place of sanctuary – a place of calm for all those involved to find a solution together. This has stretched well beyond that now.

I’ve asked for people to vacate the Church: For those people who have homes or access to homes to return to them. For others to make a plan with friends, etc. Only a handful of people have since left, and it seems either people are unable to make any such plan, or they are deciding to remain together as a group for a host of different reasons. What is therefore needed is the provision of alternative accommodation for about 500 people.

Some people have said to me that they are praying that God will make a way. Thank you because on one hand there is not much else we can do. But, the God that I believe in works through people – people inspired by the spirit of grace, truth, compassion and courage to act. This is actually what Christmas tries to teach us about God: that God takes on flesh in this world. Jesus came in the flesh – full of grace, truth, compassion and courage. Therefore, to pray for God to make a way is to pray that people – all of us – but especially leaders, act with truth, grace, compassion and courage. The bible would say: righteous leaders. In today’s language we would simply say, leaders with integrity (an inner alignment to truth and justice). We should all be wary of leaders who spend more time blaming others for the problem than taking responsibility to seek a solution themselves.

In the midst of this situation I continue to invite you to be taken to new places within yourself. What can we all learn from this moment? What can we learn that we would not otherwise learn if things were different? Let us resist the temptation to settle for easy answers and half-truths. My experience is that there are many truths present. Let us keep tabs on whether fear or love is the greater motivator within us. May we be alert to creeping complacency or worse, crippling cynicism. At all times let us resist the binary between condoning and condemning and instead seek to honour compassion that is ever open to critique and change.

The Christmas Day service is at 10am. There will be no service on the 29th or New Year’s Eve.

Grace,
Alan

 

Refugee Update

December, 15 2019 Alan Storey: Advent Joy [Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 1:46-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11]


December, 10 2019 Al Jazeera reports on Refugees at CMM


December, 08 2019 Alan Storey: Principled Leadership vs Populism [Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19]


Please continue to pray for the families who are preparing to bury their three children tomorrow. The trauma of this whole situation is unimaginable. Due to the large numbers of people expected to attend, the funeral will take place from St George’s Cathedral at 9a.m. We are grateful to St. George’s for this show of hospitality.

The leaders announced this morning (5 December) to me and to those present in the Church, that they will vacate CMM by the 12th December. For all the reasons stated in my previous updates, I do hope this commitment is honoured. You are aware that the City issued an eviction order on Monday for those refugees staying outside the church on Longmarket and Burg Streets. My deepest hope is that people vacate and leave the area before that is enforced so that we do not have a repeat of the violence of the past. I invite you to continue to pray for guidance and integrity for all the people involved.

For those of you who are asking: The Christmas Day service will be at 10a.m. Please note: There will not be services on Christmas Eve; Sunday 29th December; or New Year’s Eve.

This coming Sunday we read from Isaiah 11:1-10. Isaiah invites us to trust that a new shoot will sprout from the stump. That which has been cut off, cut down, cut low is still able to birth new life when touched by the Spirit of God. May we continue to be open to this wonder.

Grace,
Alan