2021 03 07 Alan Storey
Checking our God
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:
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.”
We end each Sunday service with what we call the “Benediction of Disturbance”:
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers,
half-truths and superficial relationships, so that we
may live from deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression
and exploitation of people, so that we may work for
justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who
suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them
and turn their pain to joy.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness to
believe that we can make a difference in this world,
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and
In God’s grace we say – Amen – so be it.
This benediction does not beat about the bush. There is nothing superficial about it. It cuts deep. The words hauntingly echo long after they have been spoken. The blessings jar any spiritual serenity we may seek.
Take for example the second blessing: “May God bless us with anger…” I mean who prays to be blessed with anger? We are more likely to confess our anger and pray for God to remove it. Anger is not something we associate with a blessing – let alone a blessing from God. Many of us believe that anger is somehow un-Christian or un-holy, but anger is a feeling and feelings need to be felt to be honoured. If we do not honour our feelings they will demand our attention by other means – often by increasingly destructive means. One thing that is clear is that they will not go “quietly into the night”.
We remember the verse in Scripture that says: “Even if you are angry, do not sin because of it. Never let the sun set on your anger or you will give the devil a foothold.” [Eph. 4:26] We may hear this verse saying that we should not be angry, yet it doesn’t say that. It says we must be careful what we do with our anger and wisely warns us about how long we hold onto it because if we hold onto our anger too long it eventually holds us prisoner.
Yet there is a time and place for anger. I am not talking here about hurtful and destructive expressions of anger. For this we need anger management therapy to get to the root – which is often hurt, fear and shame. I am referring to anger that aims at preventing hurt and destruction. This was the root of Jesus’ anger. He got angry because people were being excluded from the temple and exploited while there. Jesus tossed over some tables to make his point clear.
I think some of us need anger management of a different sort. We need therapy to give ourselves permission to actually be angry. We need help to get over the fear of being angry.
As Richard Rohr writes: “Anger is good and very necessary to protect the appropriate boundaries of self and others… I would much sooner live with a person who is free to get fully angry, and also free to move beyond that same anger, than with a negative person who is hard-wired with resentments and preexisting judgements. Their anger is so well hidden and denied—even from themselves—that it never comes up for the fresh air of love, conversation, and needed forgiveness.”
Last Sunday would have been the 40th Cape Argus Cycle Tour – but at about 6:55 am we were notified that wind had stopped play. There have been enough video clips of cyclists being blown over by the foreshore wind – making us gasp and laugh. A good advert if there ever was one for #WindPower.
An earlier message that most people have forgotten about or may not even have known of, came at 5:39 am: “The cycle tour will be diverted over Glencairn Express Way due to protest action en route. Distance now 78km.” Because of the wind as well as the devastating fire in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, the protest action from some of the residents of Masiphumelele has fallen off the social radar. The unavailability of land, as well as a terrible lack of basic services is the root cause of the rock throwing anger that blocked the cycle route. People are angry because they have not been listened to or taken seriously for years and years. Not only is there enormous suffering which is mostly ignored, but life seems to carry on in a jolly-old-fashioned-way around them … in fact some people – like me – are out riding their bicycles in their very neighbourhood. Surely any reasonable person would snap under such contradictory conditions. As Parker Palmer says: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering”.
Take this as a small taste of what life is going to be like in SA for the foreseeable future! The lives of the rich will be constantly disrupted because that is the only way the poor will secure a moment’s attention. And in this country there is no way to re-route every race or event to escape this … and nor should there be.
Saul Alinsky makes a challenging point in his famous book Rules for Radicals:
Concern for our private, material well-being with disregard for the well-being of others is immoral according to the precepts of our Judaeo-Christian civilization, but worse, it is stupidity worthy of the lower animals. …We now live in a world where no man [sic] can have a loaf of bread while his neighbour has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare not sleep, for his neighbour will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in practice his brother’s keeper. I believe that man is about to learn that the most practical life is the moral life and that the moral life is the only road to survival. He is beginning to learn that he will either share part of his material wealth or lose all of it…
Let’s be clear that the suffering of the people of Masiphumelele is far more demanding of our attention than wind-swept-cyclists.