It is almost a year since South Africa went into Lockdown Level 5. It is not unusual to be “triggered” by an annual anniversary date, even sub-consciously. It has been a difficult and disruptive year for everyone and a painful year of loss upon loss for many. The loss of life and livelihood. ‘The loss of life and livelihood’ is a six-word sentence. It is spoken or written as a kind of ‘summary’ for our collective Covid experience, but it betrays itself by being unable to reach the depths of the loss that it is referring to.
None of us is exempt from loss. In other words, in one way or another all of us are grieving. I hope acknowledging this will give us permission to be patient and gentle with ourselves and each other. Grief may be a grace if we honour it by creating time and space for it. If not, grief may become a ghost that haunts us far into the future.
Another word to describe Covid’s effect is disorientation. In other words, the loss of our bearings or moorings. A sense of things being up in the air or in limbo. A sense of personally being uprooted or unrooted. Once again, the hope is if we are able to name and acknowledge this experience, we may be more settled in the unsettledness of it all.
This past Wednesday we were reminded during our Lenten reflection how contemplatives within the Christian tradition recite the Psalter on a daily basis. The psalms give expression to every manner of our human experience including grief and disorientation. The psalms gift us with words when we are wordless.
Many years ago Walter Brueggemann suggested that the Psalter may be understood to follow three movements: Orientation (a sense and celebration of the ordered reliable life: Psalms 8; 33; 104), Disorientation (the lament and petition of disordered life when everything seems skewed: Psalms 13; 35; 74; 79; 86; 88; 109; 137;) and New Orientation (praise and thanksgiving for the surprising gift of new life: Psalms 30; 40; 138).
Brueggemann notes that the Church has tended to avoid the psalms of disorientation opting rather for singing “happy songs” in the face or raw reality. This denial is not healthy. Praying the psalms of disorientation “is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way”, says Brueggemann. He continues, “On the other hand, it is bold because it insists that all such experiences of disorder are a proper subject for discourse with God. There is nothing out of bounds, nothing precluded or inappropriate. Everything properly belongs in this conversation of the heart. To withhold parts of life from that conversation is in fact to withhold part of life from the sovereignty of God. Thus these psalms make the important connection: everything must be brought to speech, and everything brought to speech must be addressed to God, who is the final reference for all of life.”
If disorientation describes your life experience at this time, then I encourage you to soak yourselves in the psalms of disorientation. Lent is an appropriate time to do so.
I mentioned last week that I would share with you more details about opening the sanctuary for in-person services on the 28th March – Palm Sunday. Truth is we are struggling to figure out how to do this. Besides having limited tech-ability on hand at the moment we are struggling to figure out how best to juggle the online and the in-person at the same time. I will share a little more about this on this Sunday. Sorry, I would have liked to be in a position to give you more information at this stage, but I am sure will work it all out. Once again if you are able to assist us with tech-ability or ideas please contact me or the office.
If you are not on the WhatsApp group and would like the zoom link for Sunday, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Grace and peace to you
On the 8th May 2019 we will be casting our vote in the 6th national general elections. We tend to think that this is the most important part of our democratic process, as if it begins and ends with this one day. As democracies mature however, there is a reduction in voter turnout. There are many reasons for this behaviour: apathy, disenfranchisement, discontent, maladministration, electoral fraud and the plethora of mind blowing choices of political parties that confront the voter on the election ballot. We will have a choice of 48 national parties on 8 May!
All these factors contribute to feelings of disconnection and disengagement. It reinforces continued racist behaviours and intensifies polarisation. Political differences are seen as negative and destructive and not affirmative and constructive. There is increasing anger about unrealistic election promises from politicians. We are confronted with populist electioneering. The current rhetoric largely focuses on blaming, blatant xenophobia, hate speech and othering those who we assume will be making different choices to ‘us’.
Let us draw upon the wisdom of Arundhati Roy who reminds us “To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you.” So, where is love during the elections? How do we make a place for love in the elections? How do we let love into the election season? How can we think about and be present to the welfare of our entire democracy and not let it be reduced to election day?
It is very difficult to choose between parties we don’t think consider the needs of all the people in this country or care about the most pressing concerns facing us: poverty alleviation, economic transformation, jobs, education, safety and security for all people, climate change, sanitation, water, electricity, healthcare, and land reform to name a few. We need to complexify our thinking about the election and not simplify it. When we simplify issues we make our ‘created’ borders even smaller, more rigid, more inflexible and this is at a great cost to the spirit of democracy. We should remain vigilant, nourish and protect all our institutions of democracy every day and not just on election day or during election season. Corruption and maladministration steal from our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. We need to continue to fight unjust laws and hold all politicians, state officials and ourselves to account. We need to work hard to understand how the legacies of coloniality and apartheid contribute and shape our deeply unequal society.
Love is connection, it requires deep engagement, and a willingness to sit with unease and uncertainty. We need to act in the spirit of compassion as people who have a deep desire to change South Africa and the world. We need to engage in activities that break down walls and allow justice to come. We should be engaging in opportunities to connect with passion, positivity, and with life affirming actions, on election day and the many days before and the many days after. We do this so that love, courageous, pain shifting, all-encompassing love, can be revealed in our journeys with each other…
With love, Rose-Anne and Brandan
“We can only be satisfied and happy when: every child wakes up in a warm house, has a good nutritious breakfast, is able to say a loving good-bye to both working parents, goes to school in safe and reliable transport, is met at school by teachers who are there on time, ready and able to teach." 21 August 2012 in Kliptown
Grace and peace to you and through you
Imagine for a second an elephant – a huge bulky elephant walking on her or his tip-toes. It strikes me as a ridiculously humourous picture. And yet, you won’t believe it, but it is true for every step an elephant takes. In Lyall Watson’s beautiful book, Elephantoms he describes how elephants have the
uncanny ability to appear out of nowhere and disappear into thin air without a sound:
“This is made possible, for a start, by the construction of their feet. The digits of each limb are so steeply angled that elephants walk almost on tiptoe with a very pliant step. Behind each heel lies a large spongy pad of fatty tissue that not only supports the fingers and toes, but distributes the great body weight evenly across the wide horny sole of the foot. This inner sole forms a shock-absorbing cushion that behaves like a lightly inflated tyre. When the foot is lifted, it bulges from the underside, but as soon as it is set down, the pad splays out and smothers leaves and twigs beneath it, muffling sound and giving even these giant animals an elastic step and the stealth of a cat.”
Not only is this fascinating about elephants, but it reminds us more broadly that we need people who can help us to see. We need guides who open our
eyes to what is. We need people to help us to pay attention. For this reason, when roaming the bush it is most helpful to have a game ranger at our side to point out to us what we do not see or to help us understand what we do see.
We need guides to help us to see what we are blind to in our world and country. As Former President Kgalema Motlanthe said this past week at the funeral service about one of the great guides of our fresh democracy, Ahmed Kathrada:
“Today is the day on which we close the eyes of comrade Ahmed Kathrada, permanently; because during his lifetime he opened ours forever and saved us from the blindness of the heart. Along with countless men and women of a higher order of consciousness with whom he cast his lot in pursuance of deep ideals, comrade Kathy helped unleash human possibilities.”
Similarly we need guides to help us to see what we do not see about ourselves and to help us understand what we do see. Among other things Lent is traditionally a time of reflection. A time where we take time to look at ourselves and within ourselves. Some of us can only see the worst within ourselves while others of us exclusively focus on the best. This is why a guide or mentor or therapist or wise friend is needed – to help us to see and understand the deeper richness of who we are.
I am hoping each of us will honour this Lenten time by taking time to connect with someone who can help us to see.
Grace and peace to you
The most often repeated commandment in the Bible is: “Be not be afraid!” It is most often repeated because it is most often broken. Furthermore it is most often repeated because fear is the source of so many other commandments being broken. Which ones? Everyone that has to do with loving because fear casts out love.
Now obviously there is fear that is healthy. The fear that makes us look left and right and left again before crossing the road. This act of caution keeps us alive and it is highly developed within us. However when fear is internalised preventing us from exploring the people we were divinely created to be then our lives become severely impoverished and God must grieve our loss of abundant life.
Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame, has just written a book called: Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.
She says fear is boring:
Around the age of fifteen, I somehow figured out that my fear had no variety to it, no depth, no substance, no texture. I noticed that my fear never changed, never delighted, never offered a surprise twist or an unexpected ending. My fear was a song with only one note – only one word, actually – and that word was “STOP!” My fear never had anything more interesting or subtle to offer than that one emphatic word, repeated at full volume on an endless loop: “STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!” Which means that my fear always made predictably boring decisions…
I also realised that my fear was boring because it was identical to everyone else’s fear. I figured out that everyone’s song of fear has exactly that same tedious lyric: “STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!” True the volume may vary from person to person, but the song itself never changes, because all of us humans were equipped with the same basic fear package when we were being knitted in our mothers’ wombs. And not just humans: If you pass your hand over a petri dish containing a tadpole, the tadpole will flinch beneath your shadow. That tadpole cannot write poetry, and it cannot sing, and it will never know love or jealousy or triumph, and it has a brain the size of a punctuation mark, but it damn sure knows how to be afraid of the unknown. …. So do we all. But there is nothing particularly compelling about that. Do you see what I mean? You don’t get any special credit, is what I’m saying, for knowing how to be afraid of the unknown … For the entirety of my young and skittish life, I had fixated upon my fear as if it were the most interesting thing about me, when actually it was the most mundane. In fact, my fear was probably the only 100 percent mundane thing about me. I had creativity within me that was original; I had a personality within me that was original; I had dreams and perspectives and aspirations within me that were original. But my fear was not original in the least. My fear wasn’t some kind of rare artisanal object; it was just a mass-produced item, available on the shelves of any generic box store. And that’s the thing I wanted to build my entire identity around? The most boring instinct I possessed? The panic reflex of my dumbest inner tadpole? No.
Be not be afraid …