Saturday, 29 August 2015

Praying the Lord's Prayer

As we begin a series focusing upon the Lord's Prayer in
the parish, a prayer on keeping company with God:


Creator God of limitless imagination,
who fashioned the universe 
and all the galaxies therein,
who breathed life into being
and formed the mountains and the valleys,
the forests and the ocean deeps,
and filled the world with creatures great and small;
who, from the dust, created us in your image,
and walked, and talked in dappled Garden-light
with the first two of our kind:
we come before you,
awed by your power,
inspired by the works of your hands,
humbled, that you,
who are greater than we can ever comprehend,
wish to keep company with us -
to hear the thoughts of our hearts,
and to speak with us as friends.
Lord, our God, our Father...
teach us to pray anew 
the prayer that Jesus taught us
and, help us to live it. Amen

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

presence/absence/both/and?

It is summer and I'm sitting huddled in the study listening to the lashing rain and the sound of the wind as it races down the valley. A battered and aged, but much-loved, woolly jumper provides some physical and psychological comfort.
'Dreich'.
It's a good Scots word, the sound of which describes perfectly the weather outside.
Earlier today, I was visiting folk.  Passing conversation included the weather and the ever-present question: 'but don't you miss the sunshine?' Having grown up in the tropics and, given the climate of my now-chosen home, it's a reasonable question. But this time, the conversation moved differently.
He, too, had been in the tropics.
A matter-of-fact voice, albeit quiet.
And then the word 'Burma'.
So much, in that one word.
A railway man, building a railway that, when originally surveyed,
was deemed far too dangerous an endeavour to become a reality.
Decades later, under another regime, in the midst of war, the work was undertaken.
Relentless, backbreaking work carried out by the subject peoples of the
conquered land, and by P.O.W.'s.
Injuries, illness, lives lost.
In such appalling conditions, faith takes a fair kicking.
In the midst of horror, where is God?
Present?
Absent?
Both/and?

Not that he said, or asked the questions.
Nor did my great uncle Jimmy, who lived through Changi.
But 'Burma' and 'Changi', and all of the unspoken baggage those names convey,
follow in a long tradition of asking:
'Where are you, God? How could you let this happen?'
From psalmists shaking a fist at the heavens,
to rejected and tortured prophets,
to Jesus - God-made-human - and the desolate cry from the Cross:
'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'
There is something holy, and wholly right about questioning God's
motives, God's whereabouts.
It's the authentic heart's-cry.
It's the desperate tears, wept through the night, as per Psalm 6.
It's the question that deserves to be honoured with honesty,
not pat answers, or trite observations made in haste
to plug the awkward gap caused by pain.
And it's the question that is the hardest to answer.
I wrestle, and fight, and pray over this question,
but also accept that I will never have all the answers this side of Heaven.
I've also learned to accept that it's okay not to have all the answers -
to say: 'I don't know' and just listen to hard stories told quietly.

The line from 1 Cor. 13 resonates particularly:
'for now we know in part, then we shall see face to face.'
The not knowing provokes both a sense of helplessness, and odd comfort.
Helplessness, because we are a communication and information age:
'just Google it.' There's always an answer in the ether somewhere.
Comfort, because I'm not quite sure I'd either be reconciled to my lot,
or be a better person with a definitive answer. Would knowing the 'real'
reason something happens actually change the fact of the thing that has happened?
The 'oh, okay, that's why then!' doesn't lessen the pain, does it?
And, thinking of others caught up in the midst of living with pain and
suffering after experiencing something horrendous,
I wonder if knowing the answer might make me somehow less compassionate,
less willing to be alongside the suffering, shattered ones - or even myself, at times?
I'd almost be a Job's comforter - for that's what they tried to do:
explain away the pain by giving answers to Job,
with the added luxury of knowing they could then walk away.
'This is why, pal. See ya!'
No.
The answers didn't serve to lessen what Job was experiencing.
The verse returns:
'for now we know in part, then we shall see face to face.'
'Then we shall see...'
We live in the now, and the not-yet.
There's an eschatological context and, by this,
I'm not thinking 'pie in the sky when you die.'
We don't get out of engaging with this present reality -
to detach ourselves from the pain and the mess of the now.
In the incarnation, God engaged with humanity,
and with the whole of Creation.

I suspect that being moved by the plight of others,
responding in compassion to our neighbour is
part of what it is to see God as present.
Love moves us to action, and love is from God.
Love gives space to let the question of God's whereabouts be uttered
without casting judgements or criticising the wounded.
Love makes room enough to say:
'I don't know, but let's sit awhile together in the space.'
I don't know the why of suffering,
but in faith, I do know the love of God who makes space,
who is moved to action in such a way that He breaks into human time and space.
Grace enfleshed, embodied understanding of the creatures created:
who knows joy and pain and suffering;
friendship, hatred, betrayal;
love, and desolation.
And somehow, in a life lived fully and authentically,
and in a death categorically defeated,
there's a pointer towards being very much involved in the world,
that doesn't deny that there are the dark, and difficult, and hellish places.
There's also a promise that this is not all there is:
self-giving love becoming a beacon of hope.

In the midst of horror, where is God?
Present?
Absent?
Both/and?
Perhaps the question is too big, too broad.
Maybe better to start small; maybe begin with myself?
in the midst of horror, where am I?
And how might I better embody God's love and presence in the darkness
in a way that grace and integrity and sacrifice break through?
'Burma', he said.
I nodded, and sipped my tea, a brief thought flitting by that, later,
I would wrestle with the question once more.
For now, however, it was time to listen.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

just don't to 'the things'

Okay, I'm back.
Shall try to get the blog on track - whatever that track may be.
In the meantime, a little holy humour to re-boot the blog.
Love this explanation of the Bible that's been doing the rounds:
so, just don't do 'the things', okay? :)
vvvvvv