Angelic Liberators

Friends,

A few weeks ago I referred you to The Red Hand Files. The Red Hand Files are Nick Caves’ public reply to questions / letters sent to him. Here is his latest that I think tandems today’s Gospel reading rather well. For were it not for angelic intervention a socially “disgraced” Mary would have been dismissed by a so-called religiously “righteous” Joseph and no Gospel would have followed. Throughout the ages men have often been deaf to the truth of angelic liberators. With righteousness weaponised, the rejection of women have followed. These rejections are the real disgrace!

Grace,
Alan

“Yesterday, I was listening to your BBC interview, and the interviewer asked you to discuss the distinction you make between spirituality and religion – I’m interested in this distinction too, and it’s something I wrestle with.

What do you do when you’re a woman who would like the kind of spirituality with rigour that religion affords, but your faith, and much of its rigour is stacked against your sex? What to do, when the faith you were raised in continues to make decisions that isolate women, and prevents women from being fully themselves in the church and the world?

I haven’t been to church, or even prayed for a long time. I’ve been angry at my church because women continue to be discriminated against, and because not all of us were safe there.

Christ is still compelling for me – and while congregations are still mostly made up of women – how do the rest of us practice within a church that we know hates us.”

CLAIRE, SOUTH GOLDEN BEACH, NSW

“Dear Claire,
In many ways, the figure of Jesus is the radical and mystical embodiment of female energy. It is there in the blood thread of suffering that runs from his birth to his death, his emergence bereft of male seed, the mercy and forgiveness he displays and teaches, his nurturing, shepherding love – all of this feels female in its essence. I think perhaps the biggest mistake the church made was to distrust, dismiss and undermine this implicit female energy that pours through the gospels and the idea of spiritual belief itself.
 
I can see why you would reject a theology that seems to have taken that free-flowing spirituality and imprisoned it within an intolerant and hostile masculine construct.
 
Even though I go to church when I can, I am by no means an advocate of organised religion. Like you, I struggle with it. However, I feel the church I attend allows me a lasting structure that can contain my unbelief and belief both – that is to say, my love for the motion, direction and energy of faith, albeit nested in a certain skepticism of its ultimate destination.
 
Certainly church has its challenges, and it may be the last place you might find Christ, if that’s what you’re looking for. But, for me, a church service affords me a place where I can, for an hour or so, put aside my uncertainty and sit within a gathering space – a place of communal and timeless yearning, imperfect though it may be. There are times when my rational mind clamours in and I wonder what I am doing there, yet there are other times when I am genuinely lifted up by its mothering energy – the words and music and liturgy – and I find those ever-present whispers and intimations of spiritual activity, that both haunt my life and give it meaning, to be quite beautifully affirmed. There within that institution I feel the sacred and feminine essence to be revealed.
 
Claire, as I said, I am not an advocate for the church one way or the other, and I wish I had a better answer for you. Sometimes it feels as though part of the work of a spiritual life is to discover a way to transcend the imperfections of the religion itself and attune oneself to its essential nature. This is what I try to do. In any event, I wish you all the best and thank you for your letter. I am sure many will relate to it.
 
Love, Nick”
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The Liberating Spirit of Mary

Five years ago on 17 October Yasaman Aryani dared to take off her hijab
and practice her civil disobedience as part of #WhiteWednesdays campaign.

 

Friends,

Every year on the third week of Advent we are invited to sing Mary’s liberation song with her. Few words have ever been spoken that are more radical. Few words have ever been spoken that are a greater threat to the status quo of Empire. Say them aloud if you dare…

And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him from
generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has
scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our
ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants
for ever.’ (Luke 1:46-55)

Proof of the power of these words is how the powers of Empire responded to them. Empire’s Herod fearfully and lovelessly responded with the systematic state sponsored murder of the innocents. Unjust and oppressive regimes rule by fear and therefore the one thing they fear more than anything else is that people will no longer fear them. Brutal clamp downs of uprisings are clear proof of this fear. We see this in Iran at the moment. Brave and courageous Mary-like-women no longer afraid to reveal their faces and sing of their freedom while the spirit/wind blows through their hair. This terrifies regimes of terror. This freedom campaign against #ForcedHijab in particular and oppression of women in general will be overcome one day.

Five years ago on 17 October Yasaman Aryani, dared to take off her hijab and practice her civil disobedience as part of #WhiteWednesdays campaign. She is paying a heavy price in prison. Even from jail she issued a statement to support Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Iranian woman who on 16 September 2022, died in a hospital in Tehran, Iran, under suspicious circumstances. The Guidance Patrol, the religious morality police of Iran’s government, arrested Amini for not wearing the hijab in accordance with government standards.

One exiled journalist and activist from Iran, Masih Alinejad says: “The truth is I am not the one they are scared of. They‘re scared of us drops becoming a river … You’re scared that people are no longer scared of you and they can rise up. Whichever woman hears me she sees that our voice is heard worldwide. She feels powerful because she can become a state in her own right. Because Islamic Republic isn’t the real choice of Iranians. Because our elections are a sham.

Long live the liberating spirit of Mary – long live.

Grace,
Alan

 

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Advent: Reimagining Our World

 

Friends,

Each week of Advent we are invited to contemplate a different theme: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. We do so through the lens of ancient texts (this year through the likes of the prophet Isaiah). The texts stretch our understanding of each theme beyond shallow stereotypes. They remind us that hope is not hope, unless it is hope for the whole world.

Hope that is not for all, is for none.

Peace that is not for all, is for none.

Joy that is not for all, is for none.

Love that is not for all, is for none.

The reason, “if they are not for all, they are for none”, is because of our interconnectedness and interdependence. The ancient texts set us free from the false frame of individualism, releasing us from solitary confinement to enter communal solidarity where justice reigns.

Contemplation cannot be rushed. Unlike other things, we are unable to squeeze an hour on contemplation into fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of contemplation is at most fifteen minutes of contemplation. Nothing more.

The dictionary is clear: To contemplate is to look at or view with continued attention; to survey; to observe or study thoughtfully; to consider thoroughly; think fully or deeply about; to have as a purpose (intend); to have in view as a future event; to think studiously; consider deliberately.

Advent’s invitation for us to contemplate hope, peace, joy and love, is therefore first an invitation for us to carve out time to consider them thoroughly with continued attention, etc.

Grace,
Alan

Artwork: Frances Seward Photography – Abstract Landscapes

 

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We are prophets of a future not our own

 

Friends,

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

It is the start of the Christian calendar.

This calendar invites us to mark time differently.

Not just in years, but in yearnings.

Yearnings for the life-giving ways of justice, mercy, truth and grace that Jesus enfleshed to take root among us in the here and now.

Christian New Year is not just a day, but 4 weeks.

We have 4 weeks to prepare for Jesus’ birth among us.

We prepare for his birth by offering ourselves, as Mary did, to give birth to him.

We give birth to Jesus by practicing justice, mercy, truth and grace.

Perhaps this prayer by Bp. Ken Untener, may help our practice. I invite you to ponder and pray this prayer during these Advent days.

Peace,
Alan

We are Prophets of a Future not Our Own

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

This prayer was first presented by Cardinal Dearden in 1979and quoted by Pope Francis in 2015. This reflection is an excerpt from a homily written for Cardinal Dearden by then-Fr. Ken Untener on the occasion of the Mass for Deceased Priests, October 25, 1979. Pope Francis quoted Cardinal Dearden in his remarks to the Roman Curia on December 21, 2015. Fr. Untener was named bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, in 1980.

 

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In good faith …

Friends,

I have wanted to introduce you to The Red Hand Files for a while now. The Red Hand Files are written by Nick Cave – a boldly creative musician and all-round wonderfully wise human. The Red Hand Files are his replies to questions that have been sent to him concerning anything and everything.

This last week in issue #212 he was asked by Laura in the USA: “Is it better to keep quiet or to speak one’s mind?” And Ray from the UK asked: “I have heard you mention “good faith conversations” several times now. What is a good faith conversation and how do you have one?” Here is Nick’s reply:

Dear Laura and Ray,

A good faith conversation begins with curiosity. It looks for common ground while making room for disagreement. It should be primarily about exchange of thoughts and information rather than instruction, and it affords us, among other things, the great privilege of being wrong; we feel supported in our unknowing and, in the sincere spirit of inquiry, free to move around the sometimes treacherous waters of ideas. A good faith conversation strengthens our better ideas and challenges, and hopefully corrects, our low-quality or unsound ideas.

I have learned that it’s best to retract, disengage and to change the subject once a conversation ceases to be in good faith. In general, I have found it to be a waste of time to expend too much energy on someone whose mind is fully made up, who does not understand the nature of conversation and the true value of disagreement. To me, it seems a kind of inverse metric often applies to these kinds of conversations – the shriller, more strident and more certain your interlocutor, the less they tend to know on the subject. I say this with a fair amount of discomfort because there are times when I have been that self-righteous person. Who hasn’t? Who hasn’t felt that near erotic charge when the wind is in the sails of a subject we know little about? As we grow into ourselves, hopefully we learn the folly of that.

A good faith conversation understands fundamentally that we are all flawed and prone to the occasional lamentable idea. It understands and sympathises with the common struggle to articulate our place in the world, to make sense of it, and to breathe meaning into it. It can be illuminating, rewarding and of great value – a good faith conversation begins with curiosity, gropes toward awakening and retires in mercy.

Love, Nick

In a world filled with twitter jabs and clickbait headlines, and where the point of so much public conversation is to score points, may we all be given the grace to have “good faith conversations”. The goodness of one’s Faith depends on it and so does Life on earth.

With grace,
Alan

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