Mingled down

In the home at Bethany. A Hearth. A Haven. (John 12.1-8) The events of the last weeks of Jesus’ earthly life are cast. A place, we presume, he knew well. We are told of some who were there. Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Judas, Jesus. From a distance we could see it as a time of preparation or planning. Perhaps. As we prepare to enter into the drama of Holy Week it feels like a pause button has been pressed on the road to Jerusalem for this moment of retreat and tenderness. Maybe it would be gentler to call it a time of shared food and shared close company. It seems as though this was a private moment for just the closest disciples. Moments of companionship on a road that was to become, well, difficult. And into that space Mary offers an extravagance. Judas says it is a crime against the backdrop of poverty. Jesus says different and adds a prophetic word that poverty will never be over. There will always be those who are poor. We will all have our own ideas of what should be “sold to pay for the poor.” It is the generous act of radical hospitality takes the centre stage as the house is filled with the scent of perfume. Sorrow and love flow mingled down. We raise a mirror here to the narrative of the crucifixion and watch the supreme generous outpouring of charged emotion.

What would we give? Or would we, like Judas scorn the radical generosity and claim the thirty pieces of silver. But as we all know silver does not last, so to frame this as a transaction makes little sense. Even the thief to one side of Jesus recognised in the crucifixion the act of revelation. We can turn the mirror to our own times. Amidst the violence and turbulent scenes there are stories of sorrow and love come mingled down for a time. It is truly heartbreaking to watch and to know we can do little more than be witness to these things. returning to Bethany, to Mary. She anoints Jesus’ feet with all that she had.

You risked it all in a moment of emotion charged with an energy that heightened the senses. Perfumed hands, feet, hair flow mingled down. For a time.  Physical touch, in kindness, sorrow and love. Knowing somehow another chance would not come.


A tree stands in the wilderness

In the wilderness of 1987 there stood an iconic tree. Arguably it still stands head and shoulders, though that should probably be leaves and branches, above all the other trees in that particular wilderness.  It was called the Joshua Tree. If your home is the Mojave desert a Joshua tree might be the symbol of home telling a story of resilience, of survival through perseverance. (For those who want to be exact it’s not actually a tree. Yucca Brevifolia is a member of the asparagus family and highly useful.) It was named my Mormon settlers after the biblical Joshua leading the Israelites. But that one tree encourages and sustains those who live there. In my wilderness of 1987 however, the Joshua Tree was an album by U2. One of those moments of musical genius that stands – much like the trees of it’s namesake – as an icon offering us direction. Yesterday Eglwys Wyllt gathered in a wilderness place at Cors Bodgynydd (no Joshua trees) an old quarry slowly reclaiming itself from human endeavour. From a distance or a passing glance it looks like wilderness and at this time of year, the occasional bare branched tree curves out against the stark landscape. However, when we began to explore we found it was full of life, full of the signs of spring, of new life, buds breaking, frogs and toads spawning, birds pairing. But even a place which appears full of life might also be for us a wilderness. A cage in the mind perhaps, which for us there appears to be no exit because we’re standing in the entrance unable to see beyond ourselves. Even a vineyard full of healthy grapevines can be a wilderness if all you want is a fig. In Jesus’ parable grapes are everywhere – but the man wanted figs. Yet the tree is seen in the parable to be barren.

What do we miss? Firstly, obviously I suppose, this is a vineyard, not a fig orchard.  The man comes looking for figs when all around are grapes.  If you were the gardener what would you want to say to him. I’m growing grapes here, can’t you see? But he doesn’t want grapes he wants figs. Grapes are so yesterday, passé, so everyday, so today I want figs. But I suspect the gardener has been tending to the vineyard to ensure the vines grow grapes, after all grapes are what the gardener grows. And surely there is nothing wrong with grapes, except if of course all you want is a fig. A little variety here?

Of course what we probably also miss is that the man deliberately planted the fig tree three years previously in the vineyard and so comes quite rightly to see if it has borne any fruit. We can cast this parable into the usual lenten sphere of patient forgiveness which is nice, comforting and there is nothing wrong with that at all, but I wonder if Jesus was saying more than one thing. If our spiritual wilderness is like a vineyard – plenty of fruit all around us, but nothing that quite reaches the heart. Yet for that spiritual experience which takes us further on that Lenten journey, perhaps we ought to begin looking to nurturing, planting even, the metaphorical fig tree. Or in terms of my 1987 wilderness moment – looking for the Joshua Tree.

It was arguably one of the most memorable moments in musical history; the release of the ‘Joshua Tree’ by U2. Side one Track one begins the unforgettable “Where the streets have no name” the guitar introduction still tingles down my spine. But for this moment I turn to the song with the lyrics: I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields, I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls, Only to be with you. But I still haven’t found What I’m looking for.

For many the spiritual wilderness continues. Keep watering and feeding the fig trees planted in the wilderness of vines, keep on offering that which is different for those who are searching for their own moments of revelation and icons of resilience, they are still there, just, harder to find. And to be honest – I’m still searching.

Unfolding the heavens

I can do no more than stand in wonder whilst earth rises to each footfall
silken skies crowned in shades of light bright lit for the moment
haloed, darkening
as the remains of the day’s sun and rising moon co create the eternal.
I might have disbelieved myself had we not walked in company
for the gift was composed by our time together in the limited liminal hours
our memories now painted with the brightness of the unfolding heavens
a dream of time stood still to dwell.