Week in and week out – they listen.
Their days are divided into uncompromising 50 minute segments.
50 minute segments of listening.
Therapists listen to people weaving together the tapestry of their lives … threading words into patterns of meaning … hoping that the newly woven meaning will hold … will be a home to nest in … yet seldom do the first number of attempts satisfy. Each to be torn apart before attempting another – sometimes torn apart in a weaver-bird-like-tantrum.
Yet through it all the therapist is listening.
Listening through the endless repeats.
Listening for who or what is always mentioned and for who or what is never mentioned.
Listening for who is blamed and who is defended.
Listening for the words spoken with cement-like-certainty and for the words of doubt … knowing that they may be a proxy for each other.
Therapists perhaps especially listen for the contradictions or even the slightest variations within our stories. Not with the purpose to correct, catch out or even point out, and certainly not to accuse or condemn … but with curious hopefulness that here – where our story is inconsistent or simply uneven – that here there may be a potential “in” … a possible entry – like a picture or bookcase against a wall, that just needs to be touched in a certain way – for it to slowly swivel open – revealing a dusty web-strewn corridor … leading to a distant room filled with light.
Ironically and most thankfully, the words we most fear to speak, for fear of being judged and rejected, are often the words that move therapists to awe. Awe not for the content of the words but for the courage it took to speak them. Therapists, like poets know that “too much truth is hard to bear” and so they know how we must have wrestled with ourselves to finally speak it out … overcoming our fears, our guilt, our shame and our defensive denials. They know we fear the truth as much as we long for it. They know we defend ourselves from the truth even while we seek it. They know – and so regardless of what horrors our words reveal – the therapist takes an inward bow to the brave one sitting opposite them.
Now imagine you are a therapist. You are listening to the Scriptures as if they were a recording of the many sessions you have had with each of the characters in the text … in this case – the first three chapters of 1 Samuel.
What do we hear? What do we learn?
This is the introduction for our reflection tomorrow morning. I invite you to read 1 Samuel 1-3:20 in preparation.
In grace, Alan
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This plaque faced Ma’s bed – these are the first and last words Ma saw each day.
(As for me and my home, we we will serve the Lord.)
On Friday we celebrated ‘Ma’ Lingeveldt’s life. Ma died on Tuesday, just three months shy of 100. A remarkable age, yet Ma’s life cannot be measured in years. The length of her life, though remarkable does not compare to her remarkable character. The salt and light of Ma’s life was a gift and guide to many of us at CMM. In the words of her daughter, Michelle “she taught us Jesus”. She did indeed.
There was something timeless about Ma – again not so much because of her age, but rather because of her consistency of character. She was the same, yesterday, today and forever. I share four observations of her beatitude-like-character with you, that I trust will continue to teach us Jesus. Ma’s life, like the beatitudes of Jesus, invites us into a way of paradox. More specifically, a way of paradoxical truth. A way of ‘both / and’ rather than ‘either / or’.
A Way of Paradox 1
Ma was grounded and transcended. From her, I understand what Jesus meant when he instructed us to be in the world but not of the world. When I spent time in Ma’s presence I got the sense that Ma, though vitally present to the moment had already entered the MORE of life. She had “passed over” to the other side, while still on this side. In this she gifted us with a curious openness to the MORE of life. In Celtic spirituality they speak of ‘thin places’ referring to places where the veil between this measured world and the mystery of MORE is so thin that one is able see through it. In this sense, Ma was a ‘thin person’.
One of the great privileges of my time at CMM has included walking into the sanctuary and overhearing Ma praying for someone. Someone she had taken fully into her heart in love. To hear her pray was to hear Jesus speak. She prayed ‘thin prayers’.
Humility is what holds grounded and transcended together as one. Ma was humble. She had no need to push herself to be seen, heard or noticed. She never drew attention to herself. She had no need to promote herself. She had nothing to prove and no image to protect. She embraced silence, stillness and solitude without effort. Ma’s humble presence spoke for itself. And … people were drawn to her. People from all round the world who visited this sanctuary were drawn to sit next to her and to tell her their story. And at the same time she was ever willing to “give an accounting of the hope within her”. [1 Peter 3]
A Way of Paradox 2
Ma became frail over the last few years. Frail, yet strong. In fact, the more obviously frail she became – the more her strength, fortitude, resilience shone through. As if to highlight for all of us (just in case we still didn’t get it) that her strength was given to her as gift.
Ma’s life taught us the meaning of these scriptures: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ: for whenever I am weak, I am strong.” [2 Corinthians 12]
“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have a little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philippians 4]
Ma was content. Content does not mean condone. Ma’s contentment was rooted in a Centre that she trusted would hold. This released her to hold the circumstances that surrounded her, be they good or ill, more lightly. A good day for Ma had nothing to do with comfort or ease, but rather whether she was able to discern the presence of Jesus and walk in his ways. This will only sound glib to those who know not the history of her life. When Ma said: “Die Here is goed.” (The Lord is good.) it meant something.
A Way of Paradox 3
Ma’s experience of life taught her that she was no better or more than any other person. And her faith in Jesus taught her that she was no less than anyone. From this place of truth Ma was able to compassionately connect with everyone. Ma knew that people can’t live without bread, but she also knew that people could not live by bread alone. From this place of deep knowing Ma did to others as she would have others do to her.
A Way of Paradox 4
Ma gave birth to 10 children, and yet she was also the mother of us all. Her greeting to just about all of us, regardless of age: “Hello my kind (Hello my child)”. What her age gave her permission to do, her theology compelled her to do. She took seriously the words of Jesus from the Cross. Words spoken first to his mother and then to his disciple: “Woman here is your son. Here is your mother. Jesus came to remind us that we are all family, and he would even die telling us this truth. Ma dared to live this truth out. Calling everyone – be they the gangster from her Hanover Park and the priest from the church – “my kind” (my child). As a result of seeing everyone as family – she had love for all and fear for none.
In closing l once again read from scripture … the script of her life. Scripture that could have easily come from Ma – and surely does come from her to us through her living: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in [Ma], and the God of peace will be with you.” [Philippians 4:8-9].
PS. Please remember that the best way we can care for others in this season of COVID, is to limit our physical contact and reduce our travel to only what is absolutely necessary. Our health sector is under huge strain. Please adhere to all the Government regulations and be weary of anti-mask and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.
Remember the Trinity: keep physical distance, wash hands and wear a mask.
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As the clock completes its annual circuit, we are invited to pause…
To pause to examine our lives. To go through each month of the past year – remembering what took place around us and within us. We do so without judgement and without the need to justify anything. We steer between the unhelpful cliffs of condemnation and complacency. Instead, we hold all things – all situations and all people in compassion. Compassion is the life-giving combination of grace and truth. Truth without grace can be mean, while grace without truth is meaningless. Together they convict and comfort (strengthen)… this frees us to make our confession (get real about our living).
We pray: Spirit of truth and grace come and convict and comfort me today, that I may get real about my living. Amen.
This past year:
- Who were the significant people?
- What were the significant events?
- What am I most grateful for?
- What has this year (COVID year) revealed to me?
- What have I learnt about myself? People? Relationships? Life? Jesus / God?
- Who / what has made me angry, sad, hurt, disillusioned, resentful?
- Who / what has made me joyful and free?
- Where have I been the recipient of generosity?
- Have I been truthful?
- How have I done justice, been merciful and walked humbly?
- What do I never want to forget?
- What do I always want to take with me?
- What do I want to leave behind?
- What do I want to start doing…or start again?
- What do I want to end?
- If I were to die today, what would be my greatest regret?
These questions are simple signposts inviting us to explore a particular direction of our living. How far we would like to wander along each path is up to each of us…
Note: This time of pause is served best if we carve out unhurried time. We cannot “speed reflect” – like we may be able to speed read. We can only do 30 minutes reflection in 30 minutes – no more. If a question fails to connect with us straight away, we are invited to stick with it for a little longer …
Below are a few reflections from Augustine of Hippo. A person known for his confessions. The Augustine Confessions is, next to the Bible, the most widely read book in history. It is also the first autobiography as we know them. It is devoted to telling Augustine’s passionate journey of faith and life. We are invited to read and re-read his words – sensitive to what convicts and comforts us.
“Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so…
O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”.
Accordingly, I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.
Clear is your response, but not all hear it clearly. They all appeal to you about what they want, but do not always hear what they want to hear. Your best servant is the one who is less intent on hearing from you what accords with his own will, and more on embracing with his will what he has heard from you.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you, they would not have been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labour for me, and my life will be alive indeed, alive because filled with you. But now it is very different. Anyone whom you fill you also uplift; but I am not full of you, and so I am a burden to myself. Joys over which I ought to weep do battle with sorrows that should be matter of joy, and I do not know which will be victorious. But I also see griefs that are evil at war in me with joys that are good, and I do not know which will win the day.
This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician, and I am sick; you are merciful, I in need of mercy.”
On Sunday the 29th December there was conflict among the refugees – effectively a fallout between the refugee leadership resulting in a split among the refugees into two hostile groups (leaving one group inside the church and the other outside). For about five hours we tried to get the two sides to end the standoff without success. Violence erupted between these two groups in the late afternoon. The police intervened to restore order and to keep the two groups apart. The police remained at the entrance of the Church for nearly a week. It was due to this violence and the continued threat of violence that we decided to cancel the worship service at Central Methodist Mission (CMM) on the 5th January 2020.
And it is due to this violence and continued hostility between groups of refugees that there cannot be a worship service at CMM this Sunday. Therefore, until further notice CMM’s Sunday services will be held at the Observatory Methodist Church at 10am. [Corner: Wesley and Milton Street, Observatory].
The ongoing health and safety risks that exist within the over-crowed sanctuary are exacerbated by the day. As I have repeatedly warned, the sanctuary is no longer a safe space and therefore, asked the people present to vacate. Now on top of these health and safety risks is the unpredictable volatility of the present hostile situation.
This has been a very difficult time and as a church we have struggled to find the balance between providing sanctuary to the refugees while they engage with international bodies and local authorities and take steps to prevent fire hazard and the spread of disease and basically keep people safe. You will know that we have asked the refugees to vacate the sanctuary numerous times. They have not done so. Sometimes simply reneging on their word and at other times due to circumstances beyond their control, like the tragic drowning of the four teenagers in Sea Point.
As the Church we have taken the long road of listening deeply and graciously. However, on the 29th December things changed. The sanctuary was turned into a battle ground by some and our welcoming space into a blockaded fortress. Hospitality was replaced with hostility. As a church we cannot provide sanctuary to violent groups, nor are we equipped to deal with them. It is within this context that as a church we will now pursue other avenues to address this situation.
This matter is not simple. There are layers within layers being played out. We must be able to hold more than one truth at a time and resist the temptation to simplify the situation to a soundbite. We have every right to feel angry and saddened and yet we must guard against our feelings having the final say of how we respond. When our desire for things to “return to normal” becomes greater than our desire for the wellbeing of people – especially the very vulnerable (there are between 50-100 children in the sanctuary) then we need to stop and check ourselves and hold each other accountable to another way, truth and life. A way that attempts to be faithful to Jesus’ call on our living.
As difficult and stressful as all this is I continue to invite you to seek out the gospel-ness of this moment. We must be especially mindful of what moves us: fear or love? May we be alert to complacency and cynicism. At all times let us resist the limiting binary of condoning and condemning and instead seek to honour compassion. Compassion that is ever-open to critique and growth.
This Sunday we break bread together reminding us that we are one body … one body yet broken. We will share the cup of forgiveness … a joyful celebration, yet also a gruesome reminder of blood shed world over. We will remember our Baptism and be thankful as we are invited to accept the good news that we are God’s beloved and to live out the good news for the world that everyone … everyone, is God’s beloved.
Grace to you
The Prophet Isaiah was right when he declared: “and a little child shall lead them”. [Isa. 11:6] Greta Thunberg the 16 year old from Sweden is leading the world at the moment. We either listen to her and live, or we don’t listen to her and we die. Her talks are short and simple a bit like Jesus – stating the obvious that most are too afraid to mention – especially those in power. Here is part of her latest speech to the European Union. She brilliantly flips the accusation of who really are the naïve, the irresponsible and who needs to do their homework:
“Tens of thousands of children are school striking for the climate on the streets of Brussels. Hundreds of thousands are doing the same all over the world. We are school-striking because we have done our homework. People always tell us that they are so hopeful – they are hopeful that the young people are going to save the world, but we are not. There is simply not enough time to wait for us to grow up and become the ones in charge because by the year 2020 we need to have bended the emissions curve steep downwards – that is next year.
We know that most politicians don’t want to talk to us – good – we don’t want to talk to them either. We want them to talk to the scientists instead. Listen to them, because we are just repeating what they are saying and have been saying for decades. We want you to follow the Paris agreement and the IPCC report. We don’t have any other manifesto or demands – unite behind the science – that is our demand.
When many politicians talk of the school strike for the climate – they talk about almost anything except the climate crisis. Many people are trying to make the school strikes a question of whether we are promoting truancy or whether we should go back to school or not. They make up all sorts of conspiracies and call us puppets who cannot think for ourselves. They are desperate to try and remove the focus from climate crisis and change the subject. They don’t want to talk about it because they know that they cannot win this fight, because they know they haven’t done their homework, but we have.
Once you have done your homework you realise that we need new politics. We need new economics where everything is based on a rapidly declining and extremely limited remaining carbon budget. But that is not enough. We need a whole new way of thinking. The political system that you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win, to get power. That must come to an end. We must stop competing with each other. We need to co-operate together and to share the resources of the planet in a fair way. We need to start living within the planetary boundaries and focus on equity and take a few steps back for the sake of all living species. We need to protect the biosphere, air, the oceans, soil, and the forests.
This may sound very naïve, but if you have done your homework then you know that we don’t have any other choice. We need to focus every inch of our being on climate change because if we fail to do so all our achievements and progress have been for nothing, and all that will remain of our political leaders’ legacy will be the greatest failure of human history and they will be remembered as the greatest villains of all time because they have chosen not to listen and not to act.
This does not have to be. There is still time. According to the IPCC report we are about 11 years away from where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control. To avoid that, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society need to have taken place within this coming decade, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50% by the year 2030, and please note that those numbers do not include the aspect of equity which is absolutely necessary for the Paris Agreement to work on a global scale. Nor do they include tipping points or feedback loops like extremely powerful methane gas released from the thawing arctic permafrost. They do however, include negative emissions techniques of a huge planetary scale that is yet to be invented and many scientists fear will never be ready in time and will anyway be impossible to deliver at the scale assumed.
We have been told that the EU intends to improve its emissions reduction target. In the new target the EU is proposing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 1990’s level by 2030. Some people say that is good or that is ambitious but this new target is still not enough to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. This target is not sufficient to protect the future for children growing up today. If the EU is going to make its fair contribution to stay within the carbon budget for the 2 degree limit then it needs a minimum of 80% reduction by 2030 and that includes aviation and shipping, so around twice as ambitious as the current proposal.
The actions required are beyond manifestos or any party politics. Once again they sweep their mess under the carpet for our generation to clean up and solve. Some people say we are fighting for our future, but that is not true, we are not fighting for our future – we are fighting for everyone’s future. And if you think that we should be in school instead then we suggest that you take our place in the streets striking from your work or better yet, join us so we can speed up the process.
And I am sorry but saying that everything will be alright and continue doing nothing at all is just not hopeful to us, in fact it is the opposite of hope and yet this is exactly what you keep doing. You can’t just sit around and wait for hope to come, then you are acting like spoiled irresponsible children. You don’t understand that hope is something you have to earn and if you still say we are wasting valuable lesson time then let me remind you that our political leaders have wasted decades through denial and inaction. And since our time is running out we have decided to take action. We have started to clean up your mess and we will not stop until we are done.”
Grace to you
Today we are going to reflect on Psalm 1. It is therefore as good a time as any to make a commitment to read the whole Psalter – starting today with one psalm a day for the next 150 days.
To accompany us on the journey I can’t recommend highly enough Nan C. Merrill’s book: Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness. She has translated all 150 psalms with poetic and theological brilliance. She helps us see the word through her feminist and non-violent lens. Here is the preface to her book:
“Who among us has not yearned TO KNOW the Unknowable? For most, these moments are fleeting glimpses that may last a lifetime; in some, a Fire is kindled and life becomes a quest to live in Holy Surrender; and though fewer in number, saints dwell among us who know the Beloved, who aspire simply to co-create in harmony with the One, who is Love and Light and Power. To cherish the Beloved as you are cherished is to live in a mutual bonding that calls for action.
The Psalms have ever been a response to these deep yearnings: cries of the soul … songs of surrender … paeans of praise. The Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture often reflect a patriarchal society based on fear and guilt that projects evil and sin onto outer enemies. Psalms for Praying reflects the reciprocity of Divine Love that opens the heart to forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. Affirming the life-giving |fruits of love and acknowledging the isolation and loneliness of those separated from Love, may serve to awaken the heart to move toward wholeness and holiness.
Aspiring to live in a spirit of cooperation, co-creation, and companionship with the Beloved, rather than invoking a spirit of competition with God, other individuals and nations – so much a part of the Hebrew Scripture Psalms – seems clearly a more loving movement toward engendering peace, harmony, and healing in our wounded world.
Yet, let it be understood that Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness is in no way meant to replace the well-loved, still meaningful, and historically important Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture. May it stand as a companion, a dialogue, if you will, of one age speaking with a later age. May it serve as an invitation to listen to the Voice of Silence that speaks within your own soul.”
Blessed are those
who walk hand in hand
who stand beside virtue,
who sit in the seat of truth;
For their delight is in the Spirit of Love
,and in Love’s heart they dwell
day and night.
They are like trees planted by
streams of water,
that yield fruit in due season,
and their leaves flourish;
And in all that they do, they give life.
The unloving are not so;
they are like dandelions which
the wind blows away.
Turning from the Heart of Love
they will know suffering and pain.
They will be isolated from wisdom;
for Love knows the way of truth,
the way of ignorance will perish
as Love’s penetrating Light
breaks through hearts
filled with illusions:
forgiveness is the way.
Grace to you
What would you say to someone who sets fire to their own house? Oh and by the way, this someone says that they love their house and still would like to live in it for many years to come. You also need to know that they don’t admit to setting their house on fire. In fact, they deny it is on fire or are at least oblivious to the fact that it is on fire. And the one last thing you need to know about them is that they think of themselves as smart – very smart! So, what do you say to them?
Now everything we have said to them is what we need to hear ourselves. Because they are us.
Homo sapiens (which I learnt this week, translates from Latin to, “wise or smart human”) are supposed to be the smartest creatures on the planet, yet we stand out as the only creature hell-bent on mass suicide. We have set fire to our own house. I mean who sets fire to their own house? We can agree that “smart” doesn’t feature in the answer!
The biggest threat we face is our own way of life and one would imagine that we would therefore decide to change our way of life as a matter of urgency. But here is the thing, we are dependent on what is killing us for our survival. Yes you read that correctly. Basically, we cut the branch we are sitting on. It is a very high branch and falling will result in serious injury, if not death. So why don’t we stop cutting the branch? We don’t stop because we are all employed in some way or other in the lumber business. Yes we make a living by cutting the branch we are sitting on. We think if we stop cutting the branch that we will die – so we keep cutting with hope that we never gonna cut through the whole branch that is holding us. But no branch can be cut forever without breaking. It is on this foundation of foolishness that the world’s market economy is based: Growth, growth and more growth. Which means more and more consumption. Which means endless cutting. The market is so demanding that we even cut tomorrow’s branches, today.
Basically since the industrial revolution, but more specifically over the last 70 years we have been setting fire to our home. The last 4 years have been the hottest on record. Of course climate change is not new. It has always gone through changes but the difference is the speed at which it is changing. Change used to be so slow that most species could evolve and adapt in time. But not anymore – humans have pushed the fast forward button. In fact, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate change, we have 12 years. We have 12 years to radically transform our economy, especially the amount of energy that we use and how we generate it, from coal, oil, and gas to solar and wind. As Ann-Levy Lyons puts it: We need to change “energy from hell to energy from heaven” if we are to prevent an irreversible spiral of destruction.
There is no cheap, easy and comfortable way out of the crisis we have caused but it can still be done. This must be our on-going task.