Roots and leaves

Discarded leaf litter decays into nutrients feeding the trees that gave them life in a process so ancient, so simple, so interconnected. It ought to be held in higher esteem. Autumn comes and will go again. We are here for but a season.  As we came together this past week to remember a good friend and to commend her into our hearts as a community and as we say it in the funeral prayers into the hands of God.  Roots and leaves. She had an awful lot to be commended on.  Her legacy rooted in deep faith, true friendship and vivacity for life. Those which have gone give new life to those who remain. So how do we become A Good Ancestor?  The book by Roman Krznaric The Good Ancestor asks how we might want to be remembered and first suggests that in order to be a good ancestor for those who come after us it would be a good idea to look back and know our own better. This isn’t always a comfortable task. Call to mind your connection to your parents, and through them, as best you can, your grandparents, and the great-grandparents whose names you know or do not know. And so on. What do you know about your own ancestral heritage? What do you not know? . . .What parts [of this story] have been hidden, denied, buried, or left out? Examine what you know and do not know about these aspects of your place in the social world. James Rebanks  new book English Pastoral delves into his past and recalls his grandfather’s relationship with his farm, with this knowledge he is able to rebuild for the future.  Roman Krznaric suggests that in order to give forward to the generations to come we need to stand knowing our place. Knowing who we are from where we have come. Comfortable with who we are. Or at least understanding. What we can do, what we can’t do, knowing the difference and being honest about it. Knowing that we are one drop. Even one drop in a bucket will send ripples out that will reach the edges and back to the centre again.  Today 18th October the feast of St. Luke the evangelist. One drop whose ripples continue to be felt.  Often called the physician, so St Luke’s day has become synonymous with prayers for healing. Autumn begins nature’s healing process. So it is natural for us to think on these things at this time, especially with All saints and All souls around the corner followed closely by our annual remembrance.  Winter and spring tidy up what autumn begins.  Roots and leaves.  It’s a messy process.  It might seem strange to think of the beginning of death as part of the healing process, but taken in a global context standing at this one point and looking both back and forward we can see that it is necessary. When death comes do we greet her as an old friend or do we begin to use the language of warfare against our own bodies. In our community an evolving exhibition of community art, music poetry called begins Cyfnod Cof…  (Remembrance Time) The project, including a reciprocal roofed structure to emphasise how much we need to lean on each other, is to help us to stand in our place and reflect this year on all the lives that have gone before and those that are yet to come. Another tool of the good ancestor is cathedral thinking. They were never built in one generation. Those who laid the foundations would not see the pinnacle of the spire. The kingdom of God is such a project and we commend to it what we can.

Speechless

Speechless – Welcomed and Rejected.

You might think that the Parable of the wedding banquet affirms the boundless generosity and inclusive reach of God’s grace. There is the small matter of the destruction of villages of those first invited. After that though we can invite everyone. Celebrate the inclusivity, diversity of God’s kingdom shown in this parable. But then it gets awkward again. One person here is not in the right attire. There is one person not wearing their Sunday Best. As with all people who come inappropriately attired they get banished to the outer darkness (with weeping and gnashing of teeth). Doesn’t turn out very inclusive or welcoming. The traditional explanation is that Matthew says once we’ve been invited and included, to fully accept the gift we have been offered requires of us nothing less than our whole life. This is what is represented by the wedding garment: righteousness. This person has obviously just snuck in for the drinks and nibbles (Coffee and Chocolate biscuits) without realising there was a bigger agenda. The same commentators also link the earlier village destruction to the rejection of God’s plan by Israel. All of that is useful to a certain extent but it’s just information, it’s not going to aid us on our spiritual journey. I could say instead there is a real difference between going to church – out of duty, tradition, being dragged there as a child/ adolescent/ parent/ grandparent /grandchild *delete as appropriate.  There is a great deal of difference between the going to church to – Being Church, a community of faith of prayerful people. I could say that, but then we’d have to do something about it.  Let’s go back to the man who was speechless for a moment. Who is he? Here he was invited to the feast. One of the uninvited. Now invited. He comes along. He’s pulled out of the crowd for not wearing the right thing. The reaction of the man wearing inappropriate clothing is silence. Silence because he thought he’d been invited. Silence because he thought everyone was welcome from wherever and whatever their means. Silence because he couldn’t justify his position. Silence because he didn’t know what to say or how to react or what to do. Silence because there were no words he knew to describe the feeling of, in the same moment, being welcome and rejected. Is this man in the parable The welcomed and rejected Jesus? Welcomed into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.  Rejected, handed over to be crucified.  Silent before pilate. This parable makes sense if the one who is pulled out of the crowd represents Jesus.  Many are called but few are chosen is the final line. Not because the kingdom of God is an exclusive club, but because being chosen in this way means suffering – going to the places that only those who follow Jesus closely are going to be able to go.  Discipleship was not for everyone.  Going to Church the many, the feast, the wedding banquet – everyone is welcome.  Being Church – the few who gather to struggle and suffer alongside God in the community of faith.  Let me give you an example of what I mean.  Have you been in a church building to welcome visitors?  Gosh what a lovely church they say. Then they say, and I’m waiting for it, because I know it’s their very next question: When was it built? We need some creative answers to this because often mine is speechlessness. Why might I be speechless?  Because I don’t know how to respond? Because I’ve lost the art of conversation? More likely because the language of spirituality is difficult. And I suspect that is why they ask such questions – they don’t know quite what to ask or say. But being speechless is a good first response to allow the God space to develop, but we need to be able to teach others this art too – the art of Jesus welcomed but rejected going to the places we’d rather not go to be with the other rejected ones. So how do we help folk to go away with more than a few photos. It’s hard work rebuilding, but necessary. But we’re going to try anyway. A group of pray-ers are gathering this week to look at how we pray and worship in our area – in effect to look at that moment of speechlessness and say what is our response going to be.  One of those responses might be practicing the art of being still. (You don’t need to do this in a building by the way – but you do need a place with few distractions – so a church is probably quite a good option.) The point is that there is a wealth of spirituality that this place represents, we need to be offering to those who come in.  And in our days of difficulty, adjustment of fast change there are plenty of folk who need help and if we don’t offer it… Let’s begin again. Gosh what a lovely church building you’ve got here. They say. All the better to pray in we could reply. And then we smile, tell them the history And invite them to spend a few moments practicing the art of being still – speechless.

The window in the wall

Francis of Assisi was a master of making room for the new and letting go of that which was tired or empty.  Oh to have him here now – I suspect we might not like what he would suggest – Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio took the name Francis when he became Pope saying in the spirit of Francis “How I would like a church which is poor and for the poor.” The Church in Wales is, I fear, not there yet.  We are still far too wedded to our wealth!  100 years ago the Church in Wales was poor.  The greatest sadness of this centenary is the celebration of survival and the accumulation of wealth.  Now that we are rich, we are always seeking more, where instead we needed to learn how to begin again.  Francis’s first biographer said, “He was always new, always fresh, always beginning again.” Much of Francis’s genius was that he was ready for absolute newness from God, and therefore could also trust fresh and new attitudes in himself.  His God was not tired, and so he was never tired.  His God was not old, so Francis remained forever young. The way of St. Francis has been described as a gateway, a doorway, a window into the divine.  (Jesus – ‘I am the gate’ John 10:7) The image above is one I return to often.  It is a part of the ruined nunnery on the Isle of Iona. (It is mostly a garden now and will never be rebuilt. It reminds me that sometimes, some things come to an end and others need to find a new life.) Reflect on that image for a moment…  You cannot see the whole picture though the window, just the wall, the tall arched opening, part of the hill beyond and an expanse of sky.  I find myself wanting to see more of the picture on the other side of the wall but it reminds me that I can only see a part at a time.  It is another reminder of my need for humility, to be patient, to wait and to watch.  I wonder what you see in this image? Are you on the outside or the inside? Or does your mind even allow you the possibility of the question – Is this the outside of the building?  When the walls that we build around our lives become overly familiar it can become difficult to discern the difference between without and within. In a quiet moment ask yourself where you find yourself in the image.  Are you standing where the camera is? Are you leaning up against the wall? Are you sat on the ground with your back to the wall looking towards the photographer? Are you pulling yourself up the wall to get a better look through the window? Are you on the other side of the wall? Or are you on the hill in the distance with a totally different view point. And ask yourself the spiritual question what does this mean for you to be there?  Re-ligio(n) is at it’s best a re-connecting.  That is our task as it was the task of Jesus to re-connect those who had lost their way. I’m fascinated by the gospel reading, the parable of the ‘Wicked Tenants’ (Matt. 21:33-46) and the many interpreters who talk of it in terms of the Kingdom.  Notice at the end of the parable when Jesus asks the question it is the people who suggest that the ‘wicked’ tenants should be killed and new tenants found.  Jesus responds saying the rejected ones will become the corner stone. That’s hard. I see this parable as a test.  The religious leaders failed in their task of re-connecting. We don’t need to be the same.  The third thing to ask yourself about the image is where you would like to be. By the way, If that is on the other side of the wall, you will have to go there yourself and see what’s there.

Biographical information and comments on the life of Francis are from Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditations.