Survey the Wondrous Cross


Friends,

We look forward to opening the sanctuary this Sunday. We hope to see some of you here in the flesh, although we understand many of you will continue to connect via Zoom (email welcome@cmm.org.za for link) – this is especially true for those of us potentially more vulnerable to COVID.

Please continue to make your safety and the safety of others a priority.

On entering the sanctuary:

  1. Use the hand sanitiser available.
  2. Wear your mask for the full duration of the service. (Note: There will be no singing.)
  3. Keep 1.5 m personal distance from others.
    In addition to the pews there are also individual chairs available to use. The pews are marked with yellow tape to indicate seats that are spaced 1.5 m apart from each other. (See photo: the yellow stripe is to be behind your back.)

 

 

Please click on this attendance form – it is very quick to complete and with one click it is returned to us.

The attendance form will help us limit numbers to 75 persons. (We are allowed 100 persons according to COVID regulations.)

The attendance form will also relieve congestion on entering the sanctuary because less people will need to fill in the COVID regulatory register at the door.

Once again, I ask for your patience and understanding through this process. We are bound to “drop some balls” on the way. Please let us know if we do.

Holy Week is an invitation for us to stop. It is an invitation for us to be silent and still as we “survey the wondrous cross”. The cross that reminds us of how we addictively choose death even when life is being offered to us, and the cross that reveals “anew what the Almighty can do”.

If you have struggled to stop and surrender to silence, stillness and solitude this Lent, I invite you to start again. Start again without self-condemnation or complacency. Just start again…

Mark 14-15 will be our guiding text for the week. These two chapters hold inexhaustible truth for our lives and world. Our task is to be attentive to the text in the light of our own context. By grace we may discover ourselves in the text and this in turn may help us to locate ourselves more truthfully in our own context.

Stop.
Be silent.
Be still.
And survey…

In grace, Alan

Silence, stillness and solitude

Friends,

Throughout Lent, our Sunday services have begun with the following liturgy:

Merciful God, give us courage to follow Jesus,
By your Spirit make us brave to love. Make us brave to love.

Merciful God, we gather this Lent intent to follow Jesus to Jerusalem.
May your Spirit give us courage to name and to engage the principalities and powers.

Merciful God, we gather this Lent to follow you through the wilderness of silence, stillness
and solitude.
May your Spirit give us courage to name and to engage our own inner demons that surface in the silence, seek our attention in the stillness and keep us company in the solitude.

These words of call remind us that we are always on two journeys at the same time. The journey inward and the journey outward. They cannot be separated. Just as one cannot separate breathing in from breathing out without denying breath and dying. No one asks the question: which is more important – breathing in or breathing out? Because we all know the answer: both!

The oneness of these two journeys is a recognition that we are part of the whole and the whole is part of us. To change ourselves is to change the whole and changing the whole changes ourselves. I mention this to remind us that our journey into stillness, silence and solitude is not an escape or denial of the world we live in, but rather a specific place from which to engage the world. Repeatedly surrendering to the practice of silence, stillness and solitude gradually gifts us with a new knowing – a different knowing of ourselves and world. This is certainly the testimony of people of all contemplative traditions throughout the ages.

What makes this surrendering so difficult when on the surface it is so simple (I mean who can’t be quiet and still and alone?) is that when we are quiet, still and alone we are visited by a legion of “voices” demanding our immediate attention. What we thought would be a peaceful affair turns out to be a war. But here is the thing – if we are attentive to this war within us, over time we may be less tempted to go to war outside of us. With a deeper knowing of who we are we may confess: “We have met the enemy and they are us”.

Contemplatives within the Christian tradition – those who hangout in monasteries, etc. – all have one thing in common: they read, sing or chant the Psalms on a daily basis. Some go through the entire psalter each week while others do so each month. The Psalms honour the legions of voices within us. The Psalms voice every possible voice imaginable – the embarrassing, judgemental, murderous, othering, shameful, greedy, proud voices, etc. all get to speak. By going through the Psalter, we are invited to own each voice. In owning these voices without denying them, they paradoxically lose their power and influence within us.

On Wednesday 17th March at 20h00 we will continue our Lenten journey of silence, stillness and solitude by reflecting on a number of psalms. Please email welcome@cmm.org.za for the Zoom link if you do not receive in via WhatsApp.

We hope to be opening up for in-person Sunday Services on Palm Sunday (28th March) and for Holy Week services. I will share more details with you about this on Sunday during the service. We will be limited to 75 people within the Sanctuary. But as I say – more details will follow. If you would like to be part of a smaller “trial run” on Sunday 21st March, please email welcome@cmm.org.za.

As we try and navigate this change – I hope you will be patient with us. It is inevitable that when we are trying to connect with people online and people in the sanctuary that both groups may feel short changed. We are open to any suggestions you may have in this regard and we are certainly open to any help you can offer.

In grace,
Alan

Making meaning

Soweto’s inspiring soccer gogos risk losing their home field to developers. Aspasia Karras

 

Hi Friends,

I saw a group of people playing soccer in a park the other day. The teams at play were the shirts vs. the shirt-less. The shirts of the shirt-less marked the four corners of the soccer field. A couple of stacked bricks formed the goalposts. There was no referee. Everyone was the referee.

I remember playing similar games of soccer when I was a kid. With makeshift goal posts and no chalk lines to mark the field.  I also remember that we would have many arguments about whether the ball was ‘in’ or ‘out’. We had graphic ways of “proving” how the ball passed either below or over the invisible goal post. When ‘they’ scored the goalposts shrunk. We ‘we’ scored the goal posts stood tall. Quite miraculous.

During every neighbourhood championship we were not only improving our soccer skills. We were sharpening our debating skills. We were learning ethics. With the help of a couple of t-shirt corner-posts and brick-stacked goalposts and argued-out ethics, the game remained enjoyable. It remained enjoyable because it continued to have meaning.

It seems to me that one of the consequences of Covid-19 is that many of the ‘lines’ that demarcate the field of our lives have been erased. Think of how the ‘lines’ of routine have been erased or the ‘lines’ of employment, and of roles and responsibilities. With each line erased there is a threat of enjoyment fading because of the loss of meaning.

To the extent that we are able to creatively improvise with a couple of t-shirt corner posts and brick-stacked goal posts, may be to the extent that we are able to hold on to meaning and the joy that flows from meaning in these days of Covid erasing. To the extent that we are able to argue out an ethic of what is fair, may be to the extent that we learn greater truth about ourselves and society than we would otherwise have learnt without this Covid erasing. A truth that offers us the possibility of a deeper freedom if we give ourselves to it.

[I realise that this analogy can play the other way: The erasing of ‘lines’ gives us an opportunity to redesign the ‘game’. No ‘lines’ allows for new ‘lines’ to be drawn, etc. Yay! This may be a wonderful act of liberation. Take the analogy whichever way you need.]

Here is a link to a joyful and meaningful soccer story from which the top photo comes.

This Wednesday for our Lenten journey of deliberately designing our days with “sacred pause” by surrendering to Silence, Stillness and Solitude will move from theory into practice. Instead of meeting for an hour or so online this Wednesday evening, we are encouraged to practice Silence, Stillness and Solitude.

The CMM Sanctuary will be open on Wednesday 10th March from 17h30 to 18h30 if you would like to hold silence with others. (All Covid regulations will be observed … in silence.)

We will pick up our Lenten discussion on Wednesday 17th March at 20h00.

If you would like the Zoom link for Sunday please email welcome@cmm.org.za or request via that same email to be put on the WhatsApp group.

In grace,
Alan

A Work of Celebration

Friends,

South Africa is an extremely violent country. This was confirmed on Friday by Police Minister Bheki Cele. He reported that between October – December 2020 the number of people murdered had increased by 6.6% and the number of people raped had increased by 1.5%. This means that 4,124 people were murdered (2,481 people were murdered in public places and 1,643 people were killed at the home of the victim or of the perpetrator) and 12,218 people were raped, of which more than 4,900 took place at the home of the victim or the home of the rapist. All this in only 3 months!

South Africa is an extremely violent country. This was confirmed on Thursday by The Children’s Institute that launched the South African Child Gauge 2020.

The report describes the deteriorating nutritional status of children as “the slow violence of malnutrition”. The “slow violence” is “hidden” within the permanent negative outcomes that include, stunted growth, a compromised immune system and reduced cognitive ability. This will be a contributing factor in whether a child starting Grade 1 actually completes Grade 12. (On Friday the Matric pass rate for 2020 was announced as 98.07% – yet what is hidden within that percentage is that it only about 50% of the total number of learners who entered Grade 1 twelve years ago.)

South Africa is an extremely violent country. There is the explicit violence and the hidden violence. They are linked. The explicit is underpinned by the hidden. To address the explicit, the hidden must be uncovered, brought into the light and acknowledged if it is to be healed. Yet the explicit violence mentioned by the Police Minister is often the only violence actually recognised as violence. This is the violence one most commonly thinks of when we hear the words “South Africa is an extremely violent country”. As a result, according to the Police Minister, the solution is for the “the police to dig deep and put the shoulder to the wheel”. Yet the hidden violence of one’s human dignity being denied as a result of not having the very basics to live on, runs deeper and is far more extensive than any increased police beat.

Millions of people in South Africa literally live in a permanent state of violence. Of violation. A violation that is not seen or recognised as a violation. As Parker Palmer insightfully says: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” One way to interpret what he is saying is that explicit violence will result from hidden violence not being validated.

Therefore, the first step to reducing violence in South Africa is to recognise the hidden violence. This is the violence that must come first into our minds when we hear “South Africa is an extremely violent society”. This is the crime that we must first consider when we speak of South Africa as a crime ridden society. This is the primary crime.

I refer you to a paper by Prof. Anthony Collins on violence. In my mind one the most helpful and insightful papers on violence in South Africa.

Within this paper he decides to turn things on its head and ask the question: How to create a violent society. Sadly, you will see that South Africa ticks all the boxes to create a violent society.

To reduce and end violence is our work. This is the work Jesus calls us into. This includes both the hidden and the explicit violence. This violence resides both within us and around us. It therefore includes work within our hearts as well as work on the streets and in the institutions that shape our lives. Our approach is always confessional. Meaning, that we start by asking ourselves where we are part of the problem. To the extent that we can be truthful in this, is the extent to which we can ultimately be set free and in doing so bring change within and beyond ourselves.

Ultimately the work Jesus calls us to in reducing and ending violence, is a work of celebration. The celebration of the sacredness of all Life.

We will explore this further this Sunday at 10am. The zoom link is available from welcome@cmm.org.za.

In grace,

Alan

Bonus: Interview with Prof. Julian May, from the Centre of Excellence in Food Security.

CMM Refugee & Coronavirus Update

I was informed early in the week that the refugees in the church will be evacuated by Friday. They will be relocated to a designated area determined by the City of Cape Town. The evacuation will be in accordance with the State of Disaster Regulations relating to Covid-19. This is good news because it would be unsafe for people to continue to remain in such a completely overcrowded space, such as the church, during this pandemic. Please pray for all those involved in this transition. It is traumatic for all those involved.

As in the rest of the world, slowing down the spread of Covid-19 is going to be an incredible challenge, and this is why we all need to take the directive to stay at home very seriously. This Lockdown will potentially save tens of thousands of lives. There is no other slowing-down-solution in the world at the moment. I plead with you to stay at home.

The consequences of not going into lockdown are unimaginably dire, but there are also dire consequences that come from this slowing-down-solution. This is what made it such a courageous call by the President. In South Africa this pandemic comes on top of other pandemics like poverty and unemployment and millions of people with compromised immune systems due to TB and untreated HIV. Small and informal businesses are now to close, placing even many of the employed at risk of little or no income. In other words, though we are all vulnerable to Covid-19, many will suffer from the “slowing-down-solution” which will in turn make them more vulnerable to the actual virus. The homeless of Cape Town will have no one to beg from. Their nothing will become less.

One thing is for sure, Covid-19 will expose the ugly face of inequality in the world and especially in SA. I plead with you to consciously keep your heart open to others and creatively reach out in care. I am not sure how we will do this exactly – but I am sure ways will emerge. We can all prepare ourselves to be part of the emergence by praying this prayer: By Your Love, set me free from fear to love. To love, according to our tradition, is to be just, merciful, humble, gentle and generous.

Our fast-from-gathering is not a fast-from-caring. As a church I remind you that “the world is our parish” and we are all ministers. The profound lesson in this crisis is to see the reality of our radical interconnectedness. Only now do we realise how impossible it is to live an untouched life. The truth is that our life is relational or nothing. May this great truth take root in our innermost being (soul) over this time so that it is incarnated by us in the present and into the future.

If you need someone to talk with, please don’t hesitate to call or message me. If you become ill over this time from Covid-19 or any other illness please let me know. Hospital visits are not allowed over this Lockdown period. Funerals are allowed as per the National Disaster Regulations.

Our Lenten fast-from-gathering deepens from tonight at midnight. It is now a forced fast, but I hope we can “freely choose” it as Jesus did [John 10:18].

Like you, I will be discovering along the way how to live these days. To live these days in life-giving ways. Though a national lockdown is unprecedented I believe we can learn from those who over centuries have freely lived a “vocational lockdown”. I am referring to those who live a monastic life. And here I am thinking particularly of the daily rhythm and daily practice of monastic life. A practice that includes prayer (meditation) study (reading) meals (community) manual labour (exercise) and sleep (rest) at set times every day. I invite you to create your own daily pattern of practice. If you live with others you may want to invite them to join you (or online) – or in the very least to let them know of your intended practice which will therefore determine times of togetherness and times of spaciousness.

In closing I hope you will take courage from the beautiful and challenging insights of Fr. Rus Blassoples about our 21 Day National Lockdown:

 “Our beautiful Chapel is but a dim reflection,
a faint echo of the sanctuary found within every human heart.

May our national lockdown awaken us to this sanctuary within and make us not be so reliant on mediated experiences of everything ? including God.

Every human being is but a breath away from an unmediated, first-hand experience of the numinous. 

Good spiritual practices will teach you to access this. Bad theology makes you unduly reliant on others to fatten and feed you constantly. It is God’s Spirit within that groans, murmurs and knows how to pray. 

Perhaps now’s the time to delve into that forgotten or neglected part of our nature, and not ? dare I say ? be spoonfed a diet of spirituality that distracts us from being alone with ourselves, alone with our demons, and alone with God for days (21 or more). We do Lent such lip service!

Nor is it a time to be too glued to our small or big screens, to be fed a streaming diet of Eucharists. I mean, honestly!

We are so addicted to our screens anyway. Why are we so afraid to be alone with the Alone?

This is our wilderness moment. Our Jesus in the heremon moment (often translated as desert, but better still, Jesus in a place of solitude, devoid of others, distractions and addictions, tablets, laptops, podcasts, cellphones)…

Good liturgies will always take you to a place where you will find the courage to dispense of them ? put them aside – for a first-hand experience of God.

I pray you the blessing of one such liturgy. 
The blessing of truly being alone with the Alone”.

Grace,
Alan

 

CMM’s response to the Coronavirus

At CMM our Lenten Journey is about to change. Due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus we have decided to suspend all worship services with immediate effect until after Easter at which time we will review the situation.

In Lenten language we are going to FAST from on-site worship services and meetings. Fasting is seldom easy or comfortable and I am aware that this particular fast will be challenging for us because of how deeply we hold onto our Lenten and Holy Week practice, which over the years has brought us much life.

The gift of fasting is a sense of heightened awareness. Absence heightens our awareness and paradoxically becomes a form of presence. Therefore, my hope is that as we cancel services, we will discover that Easter itself has not been cancelled. My hope is that we will live into a heightened awareness of the terror of crucifixion and the wonder of resurrection in the world and in our own lives. My hope is that as we cease to gather together that we will become increasingly aware of the excruciating pain of loneliness and the great gift of gathered community.

The hunger and the emptiness are the painful gifts of any fast. Let us therefore embrace this and resist the temptation to fill the ache and gap with something else. For this reason, we will not simply be “moving CMM services online”. Instead I encourage you to allow the fast to have its way with you. In other words, that we allow time for the restless emptiness to prune our inner being. Take note of what happens when we replace our singing with silence; our dancing with stillness and our gathering with solitude. Our Lenten work is to be attentive to the journey that our fast takes us on.

Now at risk of contradicting the previous paragraph I also realise that not all fasts are for everyone. Some have a “water only” fast while others choose to augment their fast with fruit. Please allow the same grace for yourself regarding this fast from gathered community. I invite you to explore other ways of connecting with people especially if this particular fast causes overwhelming anxiety within you.

Finally, fasting is never purely for the good of the individual but always for the sake of the whole. As I wrote last week, the Coronavirus has reminded us of our interconnectedness that we are inclined to forget in our hyper-individualistic world. We are one. Fasting is to awaken us to our oneness and deepen our sense of social solidarity.  Already the Coronavirus is exposing how deeply unequal our society is, and as a result, how fragile. My hope is that we will emerge from this with a clearer understanding of what a just and compassionate world looks like and that we will realise that changing the world is possible. It is long overdue that we called a state of emergency for the state of the world.

Now let me say a little more about the motivation behind this decision to suspend all on-site worship services. In point form:

  1. Our decision honours our Lenten theme this year: “Do no harm”.
  2. Our decision is based on the science and data from around the world over the past three months which shows that we need to “flatten the curve” (slow down the spread of the virus) if we are to limit deaths. To slow the virus from spreading we need to all act as if we already have it. Due to the fact that it is possible to be contagious (able to transmit the virus) without feeling any symptoms, we need to take precautions that are based on how the virus works rather than simply on how we feel. To slow down the spread of the virus will save lives because it will spare our health system from being completely overloaded at once.
  3. Our decision is rooted in love for all. We have not made this decision out of fear of others for our own individual well-being. Our physical distancing rests in our social solidarity.
  4. Our decision is based on the common good of all but, especially for the vulnerable, namely those of increased age and/or those who have a compromised immune system due to a pre-existing underlying condition like TB, HIV and chronic respiratory conditions. The vulnerable are also those who live in over-crowded areas as well as areas without running water. People in such circumstances known to us or in our employ will need active and generous support.
  5. Our decision is based on our faith that seeks understanding. A faith that invites our heart and our head to join hands. Christian faith is not an insurance policy against illness, but rather a way of life that invites us to live justly, mercifully, humbly, gently and generously. To say “the blood of the Lamb will protect me” is not faith. It is superstition. The way of living life justly, mercifully, humbly, etc. acknowledges that we are all potentially contagious and all potentially vulnerable. We will therefore refrain from blaming and scapegoating others.
  6. Our decision based on our faith to live justly, mercifully, humbly, gently and generously means that we will not panic-buy and hoard. Hoarding kills. It is generosity that will save us.

 

I realise it is an uneasy feeling to think we can actually be most caring by being physically distant, but this is the truth at this time. The sooner we honour this truth, the sooner we will be set free from it. Please call us at the office if you have any questions or concerns. (021) 422 2744. This is a dynamic situation and may change. We will keep you posted if things do.

In closing, I have a great concern about the refugees in the CMM sanctuary. I met with Environmental Health Officials a week ago about the Coronavirus risk. I have since written to and met with the refugee leaders within the sanctuary. There is sadly no movement on their side. Since Monday they have placed a sign outside stating: “We will not be allowing any visitors or tourists in the church (CMM) due to the coronavirus. This is for our health and well-being, as well as for many others. Thanks for understanding.” They are attempting to practice frequent handwashing, etc. But the truth is the conditions inside the sanctuary are ripe for a virus of any sort to spread, let alone the highly contagious coronavirus. As a result, our legal processes are addressing this matter with increased urgency.

Grace,
Alan

Hearing the voice of Love

2020 03 15 Guest Preacher: Rev. Andrè Buttner: Hearing the voice of Love.
[Mark 10:17-31]


This is Martin Luther’s approach as he faced the plague “Black death”, which killed 60% of Europe’s population:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” 

The Annotated Luther, Volume 4: Pastoral Writings, page 404.