Walking into the wisdom of change

Sunday’s Sermon:
2020 10 25 Alan Storey: Our first duty to the dead.
[Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; Matthew 22:34-46]

 

Friends,

To change, takes time. It is seldom, if ever, instant. This goes for individuals and society alike. Sure, we may be enlightened by something new in a split second, but we often miss the myriads of change receptors / ingredients that come before to make the change possible. Furthermore, authentic change demands a lengthy period of unlearning that requires grace and guilt and grace and truth and grace and work and grace and time and grace… This is not always communicated by motivational speakers or preachers. Sports coaches are probably more honest about the time and training that change demands!

Saul’s light blinding fall to the ground, voice-hearing, Damascus Road experience (Acts 9) is often falsely interpreted as “change in an instant”, but a closer reading reveals that it too took grace and time and … One prior change receptor / ingredient may have been Saul witnessing the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8). It also took a few days for Saul’s eyes to be opened and what is more, according to scholars, he spent a number of years living in communities like Antioch (Acts 11) before he started “being the change” and teaching the change.

The narrative of instant change sets us up with false expectations and ultimately for massive disappointment. The “name it and claim it in Jesus’ name” that is touted as a sign of “real faith” is not helpful. It is not helpful because it is not true. Singing praises to Jesus does not promise a quick fix. Just take a look at Peter and the rest of the disciples for proof: Jesus had three years with them and that was still not enough! Peter was still racist until Acts 10.

When we can embrace this truth about change and let go of the illusion of instant change / salvation then we may be able to be more truthfully present with who we are and simply with what is. The truthful acceptance of what is (free of denial, blame, wishes and should be’s) paradoxically unhooks us from what is and creating space for change.

Free from the quick fix illusion we may embrace a daily practice of acceptance rather than achievement. To give ourselves humbly to a practice (prayer, meditation, contemplation, art, walking …) that encourages us to be truthfully attentive to our lives and living and world.

The following poem describes the shift from a false to a truthful understanding of change:

Waiting

You keep waiting for something to happen,
the thing that lifts you out of yourself,

catapults you into doing all the things you’ve put off
the great things you’re meant to do in your life,

but somehow never quite get to.
You keep waiting for the planets to shift

the new moon to bring news,
the universe to align, something to give.

Meanwhile, the pile of papers, the laundry, the dishes the job —
it all stacks up while you keep hoping

for some miracle to blast down upon you,
scattering the piles to the winds.

Sometimes you lie in bed, terrified of your life.
Sometimes you laugh at the privilege of waking.

But all the while, life goes on in its messy way.
And then you turn forty. Or fifty. Or sixty…

and some part of you realizes you are not alone
and you find signs of this in the animal kingdom —

when a snake sheds its skin its eyes glaze over,
it slinks under a rock, not wanting to be touched,

and when caterpillar turns to butterfly
if the pupa is brushed, it will die —

and when the bird taps its beak hungrily against the egg
it’s because the thing is too small, too small,

and it needs to break out.
And midlife walks you into that wisdom

that this is what transformation looks like —
the mess of it, the tapping at the walls of your life,

the yearning and writhing and pushing,
until one day, one day

you emerge from the wreck
embracing both the immense dawn

and the dusk of the body,
glistening, beautiful

just as you are.

~ Leza Lowitz

Grace,
Alan

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

 

Wade into the Psalms

Grace and Peace to you

Last week we reflected on the Psalms. Psalm 25 to be specific. We noted that Psalms are better pondered than preached. They are best prayed or sung than read. There is a depth to Psalms that cannot be known, explained or explored by reading them as mere prose. They must be felt to be understood. We need open hearts and not simply alert minds.

They demand that we drill down into the words and not merely brush their letters on the surface. The Psalmist cries “Deep cries to deep”. And that is how it is. We are most often drawn to the Psalms when we find ourselves in the depths. And I can say with confidence that the Psalms will always be able to go the deep distance with us. They will never forsake us to our darkness.

Strange that what brings us comfort through the Psalms (most of them anyway) is not the voice of God addressing us but the voice of the Psalmist addressing God. We find comfort in the rawness of the truth spoken. We find courage in knowing that we are not alone — that another has tread this path before us. The Psalms give us permission to speak what we would otherwise think is unthinkable or blasphemous. This was true for Jesus too who turned to Psalms in his distress from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Psalm 22:1].

This Lent we are invited to seek silence — to contemplate our faith and life. This is the cry of Lent to each of us. The Psalms are a wise companion in introducing us to our human condition.

Go on, wade into the Psalms and don’t come out until you are drenched.

Grace, Alan.


Prayerful Preparation

“Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked … and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God.

But without contemplation we cannot see what we do in the apostolate. Without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial: we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moments, and, finally, we betray Christ.

Without contemplation, without the intimate, silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.”

~ Thomas Merton

A God of few words

Roy going up Chappies
12/12/1945 — 17/02/2015


Grace and Peace to you

As with last Sunday, today’s Gospel reading resounds with the voice of the Divine. Last week we heard it from on top of a mountain: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” [Mark 9:7] and today we hear it from the Jordan River bank: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [Mark 1:11].

These are the only two moments in the Gospels that we get to ‘overhear’ Jesus hearing his Heavenly Parent’s voice. The first time is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Baptism) and the second as Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem (Cross).

Note the repetitive nature of what is being said. God is a God of few words. It is as if the Divine knows what Jesus needs to know more than anything else, namely, whose child he is and that he is loved.

The other day I asked the new group I am working with at the Carpenter’s Shop which two things they would want their children to remember from them more than anything else. The overwhelming majority of them said: “They must know where they come from/they must know that I am their father … and they must know that I love them … yes I will tell them again that I love them.”

So there we have it. Parents on earth and heaven agree! Knowing who we belong to and that we are beloved is not only vital but it gives our lives grounding validity and purposeful vitality. It is the foundation of faithfulness.

This Lent we are invited to contemplate on the grace-full truth of our belonging and belovedness by the Divine.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

“Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked … and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God.

But without contemplation we cannot see what we do in the apostolate. Without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial: we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moments, and, finally, we betray Christ.

Without contemplation, without the intimate, silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.”

~ Thomas Merton

Contemplation

André Brink died this week.

 A Dry White Season – André Brink

“I had never been so close to death before.
For a long time, as I lay there trying to clear my mind, I couldn’t think coherently at all, conscious only of a terrible, blind bitterness. Why had they singled me out? Didn’t they understand? Had everything I’d gone through on their behalf been utterly in vain? Did it really count for nothing? What had happened to logic, meaning and sense?
But I feel much calmer now. It helps to discipline oneself like this, writing it down to see it set out on paper, to try and weigh it and find some significance in it.
Prof Bruwer: There are only two kinds of madness one should guard against, Ben. One is the belief that we can do everything. The other is the belief that we can do nothing.
I wanted to help. Right. I meant it very sincerely. But I wanted to do it on my terms. And I am white, and they are black. I thought it was still possible to reach beyond our whiteness and blackness. I thought that to reach out and touch hands across the gulf would be sufficient in itself. But I grasped so little, really: as if good intentions from my side could solve it all. It was presumptuous of me. In an ordinary world, in a natural one, I might have succeeded. But not in this deranged, divided age. I can do all I can for Gordon or scores of others who have come to me; I can imagine myself in their shoes, I can project myself into their suffering. But I cannot, ever, live their lives for them. So what else could come of it but failure?
Whether I like it or not, whether I feel like cursing my own condition or not — and that would only serve to confirm my impotence — I am white. This is the small, final, terrifying truth of my broken world. I am white. And because I am white I am born into a state of privilege. Even if I fight the system that has reduced us to this I remain white, and favored by the very circumstances I abhor. Even if I’m hated, and ostracized, and persecuted, and in the end destroyed, nothing can make me black. And so those who are cannot but remain suspicious of me. In their eyes my very efforts to identify myself with Gordon, with all the Gordons, would be obscene. Every gesture I make, every act I commit in my efforts to help them makes it more difficult for them to define their real needs and discover for themselves their integrity and affirm their own dignity. How else could we hope to arrive beyond predator and prey, helper and helped, white and black, and find redemption?
On the other hand: what can I do but what I have done? I cannot choose not to intervene: that would be a denial and a mockery not only of everything I believe in, but of the hope that compassion may survive among men. By not acting as I did I would deny the very possibility of that gulf to be bridged.
If I act, I cannot but lose. But if I do not act, it is a different kind of defeat, equally decisive and maybe worse. Because then I will not even have a conscience left.
The end seems ineluctable: failure, defeat, loss. The only choice I have left is whether I am prepared to salvage a little honour, a little decency, a little humanity — or nothing. It seems as if a sacrifice is impossible to avoid, whatever way one looks at it. But at least one has the choice between a wholly futile sacrifice and one that might, in the long run, open up a possibility, however negligible or dubious, of something better, less sordid and more noble, for our children…”

____________________________

There are so many aspects of this piece from A Dry White Season that deserve our attention, but I would like us to pay attention to Brink’s ability at pay attention. His insight into himself and his relationships as well as the socio-political history and immediate context in which he lived is piercingly insightful. This does not come easily or quickly. It comes as a result of the longest of journeys — the journey within.

Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. The journey of self-examination demands much contemplation (as Thomas Merton invites); as well as great courage to connect with others who see the world from a different angle to ourselves. And because they see from a different angle they will help us to see shadows where we only see light and help us to see light where we only see shadows.

The season of Lent more than any other invites us on this journey of self-examination. In other words, Lent calls us to deepen our contemplation and stretch our connections with others. This is not easy and nor can it be rushed but it is essential if we want to live life in ways that honour Jesus.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

“Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked … and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God.

But without contemplation we cannot see what we do in the apostolate. Without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial: we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moments, and, finally, we betray Christ.

Without contemplation, without the intimate, silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.”

~ Thomas Merton

Journey with Jesus on the single track

The Gospel in Brief by Leo Tolstoy – a fascinating read.
You will be relieved to know that it has fewer pages in it than
War and Peace but it is equally powerful.

After the New Year’s Eve Service I felt like I had eaten a beautifully nourishing and tasty meal. You know that feeling when your body rejoices – when the meal “hits the spot”? Well that is how I felt. And I don’t know why I was surprised really because we have been told that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God. And on New Year’s I was fed by the word.

The two hours of shared silence provided the sacred setting to read a single passage of scripture (Colossians 3) over and over and over again – until it literally became part of me – like food fully digested. As I read the scripture, the scripture read my life – convicting me and inspiring me – and leaving me energised to run the race of faithfulness set before me.

Not only did I need this nourishing time, but even more, I needed the reminder that without silence and meditation I would be left malnourished and without the necessary strength to journey faithfully.

Like the other day when a friend took me mountain bike riding; it was my first time out on the dirt. He chose a single track going up past Rhodes Memorial. It was too much for me. My level of fitness and skill were not up to it so we sought out an easier path – a broader road that was not as steep. As any mountain biker will tell you, it is the single track (narrow way) that you live for (even born for), but this takes hours in the saddle. It takes training. It takes practice.

Jesus invites us to journey with him on the narrow way, the single track that we were born for. It is the way of compassion and kindness. The way of humility and gentleness. The way of truth and mercy. It is the way of generosity and justice. It is the way of accepting the grace-full gift that we have been forgiven and we should forgive ourselves and learn to forgive others for therein lays our peace as well as the peace of the world. This all takes training – training in silence and meditation.

Let’s start, Alan!

PS: Remember Covenant Preparation: 23 and 24 January at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary – see post below.

Belonging

Some of you have asked me lately: “What must I do to become a member of CMM?” Well, I must be honest and say that membership is not really what it is about. Everyone is ALREADY a member of Jesus’ family. So this church has 7 billion members — give or take one or two! We all know that we can have our name on some Membership List and it really doesn’t mean much. And please note there is no service that this church will not offer you because you are not on some Membership List. If you die I will bury you regardless — I promise. But if you want to get involved and really have a sense of belonging then I want to suggest two things: [1] Come away next weekend! We go away for a weekend once a year and it is a great time to get to know one another. You can simply pay what you can — and if you can’t pay anything — it is FREE. [2] Make a commitment to attend the Jesus School on Wednesday evenings (7 – 9 p.m.). If we are going to grow in community — and more specifically a Christ-centered community it will take more than an hour on a Sunday. I invite you to commit your Wednesday evenings to the Jesus School.

Finger Labyrinth Instructions

  • Lay the finger labyrinth on your lap or a table.
  •  Begin by taking a moment to reflect. Is there any thought, prayer or problem that you want to “carry into” the labyrinth? Or would you prefer to just open yourself to see what God might want to say to you?
  • Then, using the index finger on your non-dominant hand, trace the path into the centre of the labyrinth. Go at whatever speed feels natural to you, but try not to rush. As you trace the path, try to release any preconceptions, prayers or desires that might arise. The task here is to let go and prepare to open yourself.
  • When you reach the centre of the labyrinth, let your finger continue to rest. Relax your body, slow your breathing and open your heart and mind. If any insights come to you, take note of them, or meditate on them for a time. If not, just allow God’s peace to fill you.
  • When you’re ready, trace the path back out. Again, try not to rush. Think about how you will carry the insights, or peace of God, back with you into your daily routine. Take note of any new insights or practical ideas that may come to you.
  • As you end the path, take a moment to give thanks, to remember anything that you have received or learned from the journey. Then, when you are ready, put down the labyrinth and move on.
  • It may be a good idea to journal anything that came to you during the labyrinth journey.

Peace, Alan