On Wednesday my day was hemmed in behind and before with goodness and mercy.
My day began by visiting a TrashBack delivery station in Canterbury Street by the Service Dining Hall. It was awesome to witness the interaction between the TrashBack staff member and one of the participants in the programme who had brought his bag of white-paper to be weighed and recycled.
It was lovely to see how excited the staff member was to announce how much money the collector was to be paid for his bundle of paper, as he said to this modern day gleaner: “Wow — well done — you have earned R56 today. I hope you have another good day collecting. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.” It was so cool to witness the genuineness of delight by this paymaster and to witness the joy of one in desperate need receiving affirmation and payment for work done.
TrashBack is therefore not just a recycling business but it is also an employment business for those who would otherwise most certainly be unemployed. TrashBack does not always deal in cash. It has developed a system of responsible rewards, where earnings can be spent on beneficial items such as food and clothing with local vendors. Cash vouchers allows for leveraging off existing retailers, resulting in a flexible rewards programme that contributes towards greater economic empowerment. Furthermore the broader community reaps the rewards of a cleaner environment and the associated health and safety benefits.
I left inspired…
My Wednesday concluded with Connections in the evening. It began with 30 minutes of silence.
Silence, is a magnifying glass through which our lives are brought into enlarged focus. Silence makes us more sensitive to the Spirit of Love that runs through all of life. Silence primes us to hear God’s still small voice. Silence is to our soul what food is to our body.
After the silence a handful of us discussed the Covenant Prayer from last Sunday’s worship service. That great prayer and promise of abandonment to Christ that is both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The prayer that leaves us vulnerable and scared as well as providing us with a goal and deep sense of belonging. The prayer that invites us to worry less about our circumstances, good, bad or ugly, and more about honouring Christ in all circumstances.
It was encouraging to hear from others just what praying the Covenant Prayer meant to them. Without pretense people shared and in doing so we were nourished by one another’s continued commitment to faith and life.
I left inspired.
These mid-week Connections are like a welcome watering table in the middle of what often feels like a marathon week. The Alpha and Omega of my Wednesday was truly filled with goodness and mercy.
Another opportunity to be watered and fed during the week starts this Thursday when we begin DISCIPLE III. This is a great study course on the Old Testament Prophets (first half of the year) and Paul’s Letters (second half of the year). Today is the last day to sign up for it. If you in two minds — let me help you — just do it!
One of my favourite quotes from John Wesley is about preaching:
“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”
As I write this I am stuck at JFK Airport in New York after a week of teaching in Yakima, Washington State. Apparently the aircraft is not fit to go so they’re putting us up in a hotel for the night. This unexpected day of doing nothing has given me an opportunity to chill a little in the relaxing sense which is a whole lot better than chilling in the snow — which I have also done on this trip. And no matter how often I travel I am never able to pack suitably for the cold when it is hot at home. It is difficult to dress for another climate. As it is difficult to live in the world and not of the world. As it is to live the Covenant Prayer we will pray today in a world of fearful selfishness.
On this day of “doing nothing” I have been reading a beautiful book of poetry by Mary Oliver called Thirst, and through her poems I am reminded again of what it means to live out our covenantal faith. She writes in
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…
Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth
and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.
Another called, Musical Notation 1:
The physicality of the religious poets should not be taken idly. He or she, who loves God, will look most deeply into His works. Clouds are not only vapour, but shape, mobility, silky sacks of nourishing rain. The pear orchard is not only profit, but a paradise of light. The luna moth, who lives but a few days, sometimes only a few hours, has a pale green wing whose rim is like a musical notation. Have you noticed?
Another Mary Oliver poem called, When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention:
“As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant. Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground. This
is our unalterable task, joyfully.”
And they went on, “Listen,
the heart-shackles are not as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but
lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,
Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.
A Pretty Song:
From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.
Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.
Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.
And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song.
And I say to my heart: rave on.
It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but a doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.
To live out our covenantal faith we need the poet’s gift of attentiveness. To pay attention to the miracle of life that is saturated with holiness. “Our [covenant] work is to love the world … it’s mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…”
With gratitude, Alan
Today we welcome Jesus the baby, but he does not stay a baby for long!
Soon Jesus will be inviting us to leave all our Christmas presents behind to follow him on the narrow road of generosity, gentleness, justice and infinite mercy. A road that includes ridicule and death yet never will we be more alive. This radical-world-healing-way is a difficult road but strangely it is the very road we were designed for and the road we desire to travel more than any other.
To prepare for this baby that grows up quickly as well as to deepen your sense of belonging at CMM, I invite you to join me for two evening discussions:
7 p.m. on 23 January: Jesus’ Invitation
7 p.m. on 24 January: Jesus’ Dream
These evening discussions will also prepare us to renew our Covenant relationship with God on Sunday 27 January, remembering that “…Christ has many services to be done. Some are easy, others are difficult. Some bring honour, others bring reproach. Some are suitable to our natural inclinations and temporal interests, others are contrary to both… Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.”
The most dangerous prayer we will ever pray … and the most fulfilling!
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.