Signs of the times

Climate change? Divisions in the dysfunctional family that makes up the United Kingdom? Warring parliamentarians? Disagreements over arms in the Middle East? Shipping around Gibraltar? The latest scandal of abuse? Misdemeanours in accounting? Attacks on journalists whose opinions are unwelcome? Social Media being a vent for frustration? Are these all the signs of our times that Jesus in Luke’s Gospel tells us to pay attention to?  Or are the signs hard to see and dare I say it, because this is Jesus, are they subtle and are they perhaps spiritual and about us rather than whatever we perceive to be wrong with the world and our society.  Because those above like the weather are the ones Jesus says we can all see if we care to look outside or at the latest news from wherever you get it. What is it then that we need to look more carefully for? What are the signs of our own times?

They are a bit like this image.  Sometimes it’s better if you don’t look at something head on.  Because each of those ‘signs of the times’ above is about events, about others. Things about which we, in general, are spectators. It’s about events, them, they, people, the other.  What about us?  I’ve been a full member of the Iona Community for the last 14 years or so.  Each year we are called to renew our membership and agree to be ‘With’ the community.  I decided this year that I could not continue as a full member as so wrote a letter of resignation requesting to return to associate membership.  It took me three goes (at least) to write that letter.  Not because I wasn’t sure of what I was doing, but because I began by stating my reasons for leaving – reasons that weren’t about me but about the wider community and it’s organisation, about what I felt was wrong and why I wanted to step back.  The final form of the letter which I sent was about me personally.  My reasons for wanting to step down from full membership, my failings, not my perceptions of others’ failings.  What about us? You might suggest that Jesus, in this reading from Luke’s Gospel, is not being very subtle. Jesus is doing what he always seems to be doing in uncovering that which is not spoken. Shake a stick at a hornets nest – and you will know about it, sometimes we need to shake such a stick at ourselves too.  Here comes the fire and the unrest and the trouble as it begins with each one of us, no-one else.  In our families in our homes especially in our churches. Trouble begins when we categorise others as different.  Violence follows as we define ourselves as different and separate.  When we see ourselves as better or when we fail to hear other voices saying different things there is the beginning of trouble.  August Bank Holiday Weekend brings the Greenbelt Festival to birth once again.  A regular speaker and poet is Padraig O Tuama. When asked recently how he sees God he replied that God is like story and table.  Story that we write and God writes together in a dialogue of unfolding drama.  Table that is open and abundant around which we gather where there is no head sat in judgement and at which all are welcome.  What is it that we bring to that table? What do we tell into that story? Are we able to bring our vulnerability and share our stories of being wounded souls on a shared journey?  Are we able to offer our anxieties our hopes, fears, dreams, desires our mistakes.  As we gather at the table of God are we able to love each other anyway even if we don’t agree?  For at the table of God there is always space for more, there is always enough, and no one sits at the head. We often don’t see what we’re not told to look for. (Have you found Jesus in the image yet?) Unless we are prompted to look at our own vulnerability our own prejudice, anxiety, hopes, fears, dreams and mistakes, we’ll miss those signs we need to be aware of.  Unless we are encouraged to bring them into the story that is between us and God, into the ordinary, even that  which we dare not voice, we begin to grow apart.  Jesus says pay attention to the signs, they are there in us, just not as obvious as they are in the weather or in society.  God is wrapped around our everyday story, often in the background waiting for us to pay attention.  When we do, rather than the fear that can so often lead to separation, we can begin to share at that table into that story a little of the generosity that is God and gently encourage humanity in all its flourishing.


With thanks to Padraig O Tuama’s thoughts on God as story and table which gave shape to this – (link above)

Time to let go

“Pour out, I will pour out my Spirit.
Earth shall be much more that it seems.
Both sons and daughters shall prophesy.
Young and old shall dream dreams.”
Arrangement by John Bell of the Prophet Joel, quoted in Acts

Pentecost is when the church story suddenly gets messy. Our church year has been very ordered so far recounting the stories of birth, through the life and teaching of Jesus to the last week up to the cross, resurrection and ascension. But pentecost is when the church story gets messy I’m sorry to say, well, not that sorry because… Pentecost is messy, as it is a time to let go and let God take the reins, the initiative. To let go and let God. That means our carefully crafted plans for mission and ministry might not come to fruition in the ways that we were expecting them, or in ways that fit neatly into the boxes that the diocese or province has for us to tick. God doesn’t tick boxes, God gets the job done, and if we’re willing, we can be a part of that. All of this is only possible for us to be part of if we are first able and courageous enough to let go our control. We’ve begun that journey and process of letting go with the help of Tim Curtis this weekend. We’ve begun the process of letting go of our own plans, assumptions, prejudices and beginning to allow God to speak to us through all that we encounter by walking, listening, seeing and feeling our way around our villages. We need to continue that momentum and do more of it, but beware, if we do we may end up loosing, letting go our control and letting God. I once wrote a chapter for the book ‘Earthed’ called “Loosing Control.” It was about thin places, places much like some of our own area where the veil between heaven and earth is thin, where it is much easier to experience the divine, silencing our minds to the continuous noise and rush of the world around us, if, of course we are open to such a proposition. We began at a ‘thin place’ trying to map the spiritual sense of Llanrhychwyn with Rich Pictures describing our sense of that spiritual place. So I wrote on these this so called ‘thin places’ and where we might find them. An abbey, a pilgrim church, a graveyard, and an un-inspiring place on the corner of a hill, but one of particular significance for one family. It was titled Loosing control. When the proof reader returned my copy, all the times I had used the word loose, they had in their place a spelling correction – dropping and o to make it lose. Perhaps I should not have used the old word to loose, it is too close in speech, let along in writing and very far from the meaning of lose. To loose is to let go, to untie, loosen our grip, our control – but not lose anything at all, in fact quite the opposite for if we are able to loose, let go, relax our grip, our control and let God then the spirit, and especially when we pray at Pentecost, might just come upon us. If we do, we are liable to gain rather than lose. The Rich Picturing process can help us to let go. As we see the pictures of others and the perspectives of other people our own view gets widened so that we are able to appreciate a far broader understanding of the place in which we live. Then, letting go of our own assumptions we might just be ready for the spirit of God to come upon us. But beware for what you pray. Remember that Pentecost is messy. The spirit of God comes to disturb our quiet, ordered life, comes not to comfort as we might understand the word in English as epitomised in the fluffy towels of fabric softener adverts, but Con Fortis with strength. The spirit comes to strengthen greatly our efforts but if only we would allow such to happen. Today is the day when we remember, not the first outpouring of the spirit, but a moment when those gathered as church were open and ready to receive the spirit, and that there was a purpose for the spirit to be on them, for the story of God in Jesus was being shared. We too need a new language in order to take out the message afresh for the places in which we live, interpreting what is going on around us and engaging creatively allowing God’s plan to unfold before us. This will only happen if we let go our control and let the spirit of God lead us. Pentecost is the time to let go and let God.

If we had but a glimpse…

After the Eco-Retreat at Cae Mabon this past weekend...
Pe caem gipolwg yn unig ar y byd fel lle gorffwys, a fyddem wedi ein cyfareddu gan y stori sanctaidd? Wedi ein hanrhydeddu wrth i fywyd cyfan droi’n ddiwrnod o baratoi. Yna, efallai y down yn gyd-grëwyr y wawr, gan ailddychmygu’n ddwyfol gelfyddyd a harddwch coll y creu. Nid yw bywyd a adewir yn segur am gyfnod, yn fywyd ofer. Rhaid gollwng gafael, gadael i’r tangnefedd naturiol godi eto a, chyfranogi’n dyner braf, wedi ein daearu unwaith eto.

If we had but a glimpse of the world as a resting place would we be caught in the sacred story? Honoured as the whole of life becomes a day of preparation.  We might just then become co-creators of the dawn for a divine re-imagining of the lost art and beauty of creation.  A life laid fallow, for a time, is not in vain.  To let go, to allow the natural restfulness to rise up and with gentle ease, to participate; earthed once again.