Friday, 27 February 2015

Lent, day 9: snowdrops

A funeral this morning.
The old-fashioned way: service at the house,
and then walking with the hearse to the graveyard along a quiet country lane in the beauty of the morning...

A drone as air met pipes.
'Highland Cathedral' sounding,
leading the hearse from home to grave.
We followed behind.
A tear here,
a hand held there
as we walked along the country lane.
She had been a gardener;
who, with skill and care,
planted and tended,
encouraged seeds to grow.
She had tended people too,
and, at this last, they gathered for farewell.
As we passed,
snowdrops, bowing heads, said goodbye.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Lent, day 8: wholly Holy

'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.'  Isaiah 6:3

A memory from many years back...
It was morning.
A blue-sky day.
The heat and humidity of the tropical sun already cranked up to nearly full-blast.
Walking to the school assembly hall that doubled as church on Sunday, a small voice called from behind me:
'Nik! Nik!'
I waited for this little one to catch up, white-blonde ponytail bouncing, catching the sun, as she raced along.
We walked into the hall together as she told me about her week.
And then, the sudden solemnity that only a child of 6 can muster.
There was something else.
I stood still, waiting for her to tell me this Important Thing.
'Mummy bought me,' a wee pause, 'a bible.'
I nodded, my expression matching her own solemnity.
This was an Important Thing indeed.
Curious as to what kind of bible she'd been given - where there pictures, was it child-friendly? -
I said 'that's a very special present, isn't it?  What kind of bible?'
Big blue eyes looked up to me.
A face filled with sheer awe and wonder.
Words said in hushed, reverent near-whisper:
'It's a holy bible.'

Of course it was.
Sometimes it takes a child to remind us of ordinary things made extraordinary:
God's word, contained in scripture.
Wholly holy.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Lent, day 7: mid-week soulspace

A wee respite from wordy posts.
Today, a peaceful meditation...

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Lent, day 6: 'Homesick'


When we love, when we tell ourselves we do,
we are pining for first love, somewhen,
before we thought of wanting it.  When we rearrange
the rooms we end up living in, we are looking
for first light, the arrangement of light,
that time, before we knew to call it light.

Or talk of music, when we say
we cannot talk of it, but play again
C major, A flat minor, we are straining
for first sound, what we heard once,
then, in lost chords, wordless languages.

What country do we come from?  This one?
The one where the sun burns
when we have night? The one
the moon chills; elsewhere, possible?

Why is our love so imperfect,
music only echo of itself,
the light wrong?

We scratch in dust with sticks,
dying of homesickness
for when, where, what.

Carole Anne Duffy - from New Selected Poems 1984-2004

The season of Lent is one of wandering, wilderness, exile.
We have buried the Alleluias
and wonder how we will find strength to keep walking.
It can feel an odd, dark time; hard.
Without the shout of acclamation,
how do we sing the Lord's song in this strange Lenten land?

Lent reminds us that we are exiles.
Looking for light and straining for lost language.
Lent reminds us of our imperfect love;
a season that brings about homesickness
as we long for our heart's true home.
Amid the Lenten reminders, however, is hope.
We have buried the Alleluias
but we know they are there, waiting to burst forth from the tomb.
'We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song'. [St Augustine]
Now is the time of yearning, longing,
of scratching in the wilderness dust with our sticks,
but soon and very soon the day approaches
for heart's-rest, and Alleluias,
and hope fulfilled.

Lent, day 5: grace

On the Sunday closest to Epiphany, I shared out 'star words' amongst the congregation, as we thought of the journey of the Magi starwards to Jerusalem.  The word I happened to pick from the offered basket was 'grace', which now sits in the manse study above my desk.  I remember smiling when I saw what word I'd received, for 'grace' is a word I bang on about quite a bit, and also, brings to mind what I love so much about the works of both Augustine and Calvin...and anyone who has hung in there with this blog over time, or who knows me, knows just how misunderstood I think these two guys are.  Rephrasing a song that's been pretty much viral over the last several months, for Augy and Johnny C, it's all 'bout the grace, bout that grace'.
Having journeyed in Advent to Christmas and the crib, now is the season to journey through Lent to the cross and towards the hope of resurrection.  In grace, death is not the end; love wins and hope will have its way.
What then, is it to walk in grace through Lent, and through life, I wonder?
Called as God's own, not of our own doing but through God's limitless grace and mercy, how does the turning of our hearts impact upon our inclinations, our way of being - both within the context of living into the identity of who we are in Christ, and of the effect that this has upon how we are and interact with God, with others, with creation?  As God's workmanship, created for good works in Christ - not works to earn salvation, but works stemming from salvation - what good works flow naturally as a result of grace...both intentional and almost automatically?  But this is not a measuring stick to beat up on one's self, nor is it a competition in order to win a gold star.  That way lies the madness of never measuring up and the harsh, exacting God of Pelagius - and what Augustine and Calvin get so well: the whole point is that we never measure up.  The beauty is, God's grace is more than enough.

But God, who is rich in mercy,
out of the great love with which he loved us
even when we were dead through trespasses,
made us alive together with Christ - 
by grace you have been saved
- and raised us up with him
and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
so that in the ages to come
he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace
in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not your own doing;
it is the gift of God -
not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
For we are what he has made us,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
                                                                    Eph 2:4-10

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Lent, day 4: arc of covenant

Genesis 9: 11 
'I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; 
never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth...'

Never again.
And in the sky, mark of rainbow sealed the deal; 
mercy a-glimmer in the heavens,
translucent shimmering hope
of life,
of love. 
Etched and stretched across blue.
Arc of covenant
extending grace.

Lent, day 3: not gods, but God's

We confess and acknowledge one only God, 
to whom only we must cleave, 
whom only we must serve, 
whom only we must worship, 
and in whom only we must put our trust'

opening words, ch. 1, Scots Confession of Faith, reflecting the texts: 
Deut 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:6; Deut 4:35; Isa 44:5-6

In these early, baby-step days of Lent, the opening words of the first article of the Scots Confession came to mind.
I'm still convinced this one's much better than the Westminster Confession, but I digress.
Earlier today, thinking of ashes and Ash Wednesday, the thought that 'we are God's, not gods' came echoing back.
Whose are we?
Who do we serve?
What is our point and purpose?
I love how the Scots Confession sums it up so succinctly.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Lent, day 2: a bar on a boat to the Bahamas

a belated ... Lent, Day 2

A piano bar, on a boat to the Bahamas.
The piano man schmoozing his late-night clientele, telling stories, playing old favourites, gathering up snippets of his listeners lives.  Entertainer, sometimes Father-confessor and pastor-comforter:
' that's when we divorced.  I got in the car and heard this song.  Can you play it?'
He obliges.
A group of women filter in.
He discovers they are clergy.
Occasional smiling commentary between requests.
And then, unbidden, in the midst of the mojitos and ministers and everyone else, accommodation.
A new song begins: 'Lord I lift your name on high'.
The bar crowd sing, even some of the ministers.
The hand movements done in church now transported to the high seas.
It's jazzy, it's fun, it's cheesy.  But there are huge grins all around.
Another song follows: 'Amazing grace'.
The atmosphere changes to near-reverence.
Memories of loved ones mingle with the music of a song
so often played in very different circumstances.
The song lingers for a moment, and then a quip, and he deftly moves to 'Sweet Caroline'.
I sit with a friend and wonder.
She turns and says something along the lines of: 'He worked out his audience.  And he accommodated us, made us welcome, spoke our language.  How often do we do that as the church to those who wander in from other life contexts?'
I nod, reflecting on this unlooked-for parable of hospitality in a seemingly unlikely place.
We pick up our drinks silently, thoughtfully as the piano man plays on.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

of dust, and ashes, and rending hearts: Ash Wednesday

Some Lenten reflecting...perhaps on a daily basis, perhaps not.  We shall see!

'Yet even now, says the Lord, 
return to me with all your heart, 
with fasting, with weeping, with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, 
and relents from punishing.'  Joel 2:12-13

It was written, in mid-Scots, on the frontispiece of 'The Order of the General Fast and of Public Repentance'.  The classic text for those moved to, or encouraged towards, making acts of penance.
In his 'Order', Knox urged the community of the faithful to corporate penitence, an octave [8 days] of fasting, prayer, and meditating upon scripture.  To do so was to demonstrate to a watching God a conscious re-turning towards holiness, to faithful living; simply, of putting God first.  To do so was to also demonstrate to a watching world a conscious turning away from words and actions and attitudes that were unkind, unloving, that broke down relationships
both sacred and divine.
For penance is always about relationship -
tied in utterly with what it is to love God, and to love neighbour, and even to love oneself.
John Knox got that; he got the relational and the communal nature of penance.
Penance has never just been about 'me and my God': it is about us and our God.
One God, in perfect Triune community, demonstrating in very being, the intricate and beautiful weaving of relationship based on love; of connection and inter-connectedness;
of unity, diversity, and of harmony combined

With its dust and ashes and marking of cross on skin, Ash Wednesday is that first Lenten call to God's people to re-align, to re-turn: to turn again to the Lord, to express sorrow for looking elsewhere, getting caught up in other things, and in the process doing harm to others and to self.
The mix of ash and oil marking us as God's own,
called to move from out of the darkness and into his marvellous light.
The mark reminding us of our mortality - for we are not gods, we are God's.
The mark reminding us that, even in the act of falling in the dust upon our knees in humble sorrow, there is hope:
God does not leave us dust-bound, and death is not the final word.
As God's faithless, faithful, wholly human people, we are marked as God's own
restored, forgiven, free.
Called, as community, to be relational:
to turn to God
to turn to each other
to turn to our neighbour and the watching world.
To reach out, having first reached inwards and examined ourselves and discovered
God's wide, wide mercy.
To share the good news of God's steadfast love.
To rejoice, and give thanks that there is hope.
To remember that sorrow and weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Time to wait,
to watch,
to pray.
To sorrow, yes, but in this Lenten season of preparation, to know that we prepare in order to rejoice:
to celebrate the resurrection joy of Easter Sunday.
In a hat-tip to a friend:
now, where did I put those ashes...?