The grace of despair

Grace and peace to you and through you

Christmas can be one of the most difficult times of the year for people. The expectation to be “happy” as in “Happy Christmas” is sometimes at complete odds with our lived experience and this can provoke an even greater despair than usual. So this is for all of you in despair at this time. David Whyte writes in Consolations on Heartbreak:

“Despair takes us in when we have nowhere else to go; when we feel the heart cannot break anymore, when our world or our loved ones disappear, when we feel we cannot be loved or do not deserve to be loved, when our God disappoints, or when our body is carrying profound pain in a way that does not seem to go away.

Despair is a haven with its own temporary form of beauty and of self-compassion, it is the invitation we accept when we want to remove ourselves from hurt. Despair, is a last protection…

Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair, a temporary healing absence, an internal physiological and psychological winter when our previous forms of participation in the world take a rest; it is a loss of horizon, it is the place we go when we do not want to be found in the same way anymore. We give up hope when certain particular wishes are no longer able to come true and despair is the time in which we both endure and heal, even when we have not yet found the new form of hope.

Despair is strangely, the last bastion of hope; the wish being, that if we cannot be found in the old way we cannot ever be touched or hurt in that way again. …Despair is the place we go when we no longer want to make a home in the world and where we feel, with a beautifully cruel form of satisfaction, that we may never have deserved that home in the first place…

Despair turns to depression and abstraction when we try to make it stay beyond its appointed season and start to shape our identity around its frozen disappointments. …Despair needs a certain tending, a reinforcing, and isolation, but the body left to itself will breathe, the ears will hear the first birdsong of morning or catch the leaves being touched by the wind in the trees, and the wind will blow away even the grayest cloud; will move even the most immovable season; the heart will continue to beat and the world, we realize, will never stop or go away.

The antidote to despair is not to be found in the brave attempt to cheer ourselves up with happy abstracts, but in paying a profound and courageous attention to the body and the breath, independent of our imprisoning thoughts and stories, even strangely, in paying attention to despair itself, and the way we hold it, and which we realize, was never ours to own and to hold in the first place. To see and experience despair fully in our body is to begin to see it as a necessary, seasonal visitation, and the first step in letting it have its own life, neither holding it nor moving it on before its time…

Despair is a difficult, beautiful necessary, a binding understanding between human beings caught in a fierce and difficult world where half of our experience is mediated by loss, but it is a season, a wave form passing through the body, not a prison surrounding us. A season left to itself will always move, however slowly, under its own patience, power and volition.”

May we discover the grace of despair,

Bring to birth

Grace and peace to you

It may surprise us to know that back in the Biblical day the idea of God taking on human flesh was actually not such an outrageous idea. There were many emperors and pharaohs of the Greeks, Romans and ancient Egyptians who were considered deity in some form or other.

What made the declaration that Jesus was God born among us so outrageous is that he came from the under-class of society. His parents were peasant working people. What was worse was that his mother was not impregnated by his father – giving Jesus and his parents full marks in the social outcast category. The Gospel stories are clear that he was not born in a palace but rather in an overcrowded hovel – sharing accommodation with animals because they didn’t make the cut for anything more worthy. You don’t get lower than this.

And this is the shock of Christmas – not that God would share our flesh per se – but that God would share the flesh of the lowest among us. This turned the orthodox theology of their day up-side-down for in those days everyone believed that the healthy and wealthy were the ones who had been blessed by God while the poor and sick had been cursed by God. But if it were true that the lowly-outcast-Jesus was God’s en-fleshed representative then one’s entire perspective of God would have to change, as well as one’s perspective on life and living.

When the emperors and people in power are believed to represent God then the status quo will be bent in their favour. Any challenge to the status quo that serves the elite will not only be considered treason, but sinful. To challenge the king is no less than challenging God. This is very convenient theology for the King after all, who wants to mess with God?

But when God is represented by the lowest – the least – the ones society makes no room for then the elite serving status quo is given notice. Every day the status quo excludes and exploits the poorest of the poor God is aggrieved and offended. In short, the elite are messing with God and you don’t want to do that!

Christmas is the great challenge to all elite-serving systems. It declares: If you mess with the poor you mess with God. In South Africa, Christmas 2015 comes to us as a stern warning: Start honouring the poor or else …


A Psalm of Bringing to Birth

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth in the world of the new creation?
Wisdom and justice, peace and compassion, concern for all God’s little ones, for the homeless and the destitute, the hungry, and all who bear the brunt of indifference and oppression.

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth on the earth of the new creation?
A deep respect for our planet, its winding and its waters, its topsoil and its forests, and a oneness with the wilderness that is image of our soul.

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth in the church of the new creation?
A total disdain for power that diminishes or destroys, divestment of wealth and status, a sharing of human resources based on mutuality and the sudden surprise of grace.

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth in the hearts of the new creation?
An unbreakable bond in the Spirit that binds as one all brothers and sisters, transcending class, colour, culture, religion, sexual orientation and gender, that treats no personal preference, no physical or spiritual difference as aberration or handicap.

One has been born among us who heralds such liberation. Human liberation, our liberation has taken flesh among us and in Spirit dwell with us.
Holy the woman who helped this happen. Blessed are we when we give birth to the Word made flesh in us.

~ Miriam Therese Winter in WomanWord [adapted] 

God’s foolishness

In protest over the commercialisation of Christmas Art, Conrad placed a Father Christmas on a 5m high cross in front of his home with the inscription: “Santa died for your Master Card”. That is quite a statement. But one thing we can be sure of is that Santa will never be enough of a threat to be crucified by the powers that be. The mascots of money are courted not crucified.

Grace and Peace to you

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” [1 Corinthians 1:20]

Yes I know Paul was speaking about the Cross when he penned these words but they are equally true about the “foolish” birth of Jesus. Paul continues: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:27-28].

What a foolish God this is to choose to be born into poverty within a country under hostile occupation. Jesus needed saving before he could start his saving work. A refugee child on the run is how Jesus’ life began.

What a foolish God this is to choose to be born as a “nobody”. I mean, why not come as someone powerful or at least popular? Someone who could “get the message out” far and wide? One who had access to important people with money and who could influence the real decision-makers?

 What a foolish God indeed.

As it was in the beginning so it was with Jesus’ birth. God specialises in creating out of nothing. All through scripture we see God doing wonders with so-called nobodies. Now this is affirming news when we feel like nobodies and it is also a reminder that the Divine more often than not comes to us from the unwanted margins of society. Those ignored and maligned, downtrodden and forgotten are who God uses to turn this world right-way-up. Christmas invites us to take our lead from the despised and marginalised.

Grace, Alan

Prayer of Preparation

Humble child of Bethlehem, whose parents found no room in the inn,
we pray for all who are homeless.

Humble child of Bethlehem, born in a stable,
we pray for all who live in poverty.

Humble child of Bethlehem, rejected stranger,
we pray for all who are lost, alone, all who cry for loved ones.

Humble child of Bethlehem, whom Herod sought to kill,
we pray for all who live with danger, all who are persecuted.

Humble child of Bethlehem, a refugee in Egypt,
we pray for all refugees throughout the world.

Humble child of Bethlehem, in you God was pleased to dwell,
help us, we pray, to see the divine image in people everywhere. Amen.

David Blanchflower 1987

God is always near

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace. Isaiah 52

I love the way Charles Wesley describes the incarnation: “Our God contracted to a span / Incomprehensibly made man (sic)….He deigns in flesh to appear / Widest extremes to join… And we the life of God shall know / For God is manifest below.”

Nothing could ever be so unexpected. The God of heaven has an earthly address. As Karl Rahner has written:

Now we no longer need to seek God in the endlessness of heaven, where our spirit and our heart get lost. Now he himself is on our very earth, where he is no better off than we and where he receives no special privileges, but our every fate: hunger, weariness, enmity, mortal terror and a wretched death. That the infinity of God should take upon itself human narrowness, that bliss should accept the mortal sorrow of the earth, that life should take on death — this is a most unlikely truth. But only this — the obscure light of faith — makes our nights bright, only this makes them holy.

I met someone the other day from Belgium. She came to be in South Africa especially for the 10 days of mourning that followed Nelson Mandela’s death. She was irresistibly drawn to be here — to the soil and the people — to share and to love and to hold. Having visited South Africa before she carried a permanent sense of connection within herself for us. “I just had to be here at this time”, she said.

God’s earthly visit to share and to love and to hold is what Christmas is all about. And forevermore God carries a permanent sense of connection within God’s self for us.

Look around you. God is near. Look inside you. God is near. Take comfort because God is near. Tremble with awe because God is near. And get this … now it is impossible to escape God loving you.

Prayer of Preparation
YOU are with us!
YOU are with US!

O Lord give to us the gift of knowing your presence and the blessing of peace and courage that flows from it. Amen.

Grace, Alan