Oh would you just listen!

I’ve been walking in the company of ghosts for the past few weeks, spending time in burial grounds and a number of sacred sites in preparation to write about how we deal with such places.  The transfiguration – a traditional reading for the Sunday before Lent, is a reading about being in the company of ghosts.
There is something very silent about a graveyard, I guess it is probably because it is a place which we expect to be silent – and our senses do not disappoint us – we hear what we expect to hear, we feel what we expect to feel.
Peter is busying himself with plans for booths, hospitality for the ghosts atop the mountain, but through it all comes the voice of God – ‘Would you just listen to him?’
We are so very good at not listening in so many different ways.  Doctors speak of patients with the diagnosis from google, expecting the prescription, yet they have not let the doctor look at the symptoms.
One of the many subjects for clergy to moan to each other about on CMD days is others trying to tell them their job – even this morning, if you listened to Radio Wales you would have heard Anne Widdecombe trying to tell Bishops not to be involved in politics.  if we take the gospel seriously we can’t help but get involved in issues of the day and that often involves challenging politicians.  They would rather we left professional politicians to politic together and deal with individuals and their issues.  I would rather they left political manoeuvring  out of social reforms and acted with compassion, but who am I?
The command from God, ‘Listen to him’ does not come lightly.  Stop building booths, mission strategies, files of answers to questions found on Google to obscure what Jesus is saying in the Gospels.
It was the stroke of genius and the wisdom of Jesus that led to the overthrow of the Roman Empire by the early church.  They did it from the inside out and as Jesus had shown up their violence to be worthless usurping the empire from the inside out was only a matter of time on the part of the Christians that followed.  It certainly wasn’t a passive takeover, but it wasn’t violent either.  However, with the genius of Constantine – if you can’t beet em join em and with the backing of the Might of the Roman empire christians went and began to build booths!  The urgency had been lost.  If we had to start again, what would we do first?  Lent begins this week – I would strongly suggest we take a leaf out of the story of the Transfiguration.  Stop being quite so busy and listen to God and to Jesus.

Justice through radical compassion

Keith Hebden, Priest in Mansfield:

“author of “Seeking Justice: The Radical Compassion of Jesus”. This website is being developed to support those who want to find ways to build a new world in the shell of the old one in their neighbourhoods.”

compasionistas.net is a website resource for all those seeking justice for folk in their communities.Seeking Justice published by Circle Books is a continuation of the work of the late Walter Wink’s Powers series.  In order to allow justice we must ‘Bind the Strong Man’ Mark’s Gospel written on extensively by Ched Myers.

The point of Baptism?

An American Lady travelling to Paris 1913 asked Ezra Pound what art is for. Reply:  What is a rose bush for?  If someone asks me what is baptism for, I might reply with the same.

Water as we have seen only too often in recent weeks is regularly the means of destruction, often violent extreme and dramatic.  Yet strangely without it we cannot live, it is also the stuff of life.

Today we remember the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan.  We are told the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and there is also a voice from heaven.  Don’t forget that these writers were not writing eyewitness accounts.  It was certainly written after Jesus’ death.

Contrast this with the baptisms we often see today:

Maybe the cynic would say Some form of cultural social engagement, An excuse for a party, letting the hair down for a moment in the madness that is bringing up a child.  Showing off the baby to friends and family, an excuse for a gathering.  Hedging our bets, just in case.

Perhaps a more charitable offering might be: Trying to do the best for the new child.  Enlisting help of Godparents for later in life,  sharing parental responsibilities.

And then contrast both of these with our baptism liturgies which speak in superstitious ways of freeing from sin and death, the world and the devil.

Why? Baptism isn’t about being good?  Somehow without it will a child burn in the fires of Hell.?  Are we freeing a child from something?  Pronouncing a blessing?  Somehow removing original sin?  Was the quest for knowledge sinful?  I don’t believe there is a need to free anyone from anything.  Are people innately good then?  all possessing the possibility of good and evil.  So perhaps we are setting a child on the right path at Baptism?

I feel the problem is that we are trying to say something of mythos, Myth & Story in a world of logos, Truth and Reason and it makes no sense.  We cannot speak of the spiritual in terms of logos.  This used to be possible as in the depiction of the baptism of Jesus in the biblical narrative, but they are becoming harder to find and when we do find them, harder to understand.

An Exhibition of art took place some years ago in the chapel at the university in Bangor.  Local sculptor John Meirion Morris held the exhibition of his work which drew much of its inspiration from the Mabinogion.  The art filled the chapel and was installed for two weeks in 2004.  Subtle background music, Tavener’s The Lamb added to the atmosphere.  The effect was beyond words, the experience was very dramatic.  The pieces of sculpture were almost alive, sleeping, but still breathing as you moved amongst them.  At the step of the chancel lay a sculpted head.  The face was haggard with lines, the hair was wild, the expression one of torment.  It was as if looking at the face of God as God considered the world.  A moving and strangely spiritual experience.

Baptism should be like that, but we are unable to describe the experience in the words we use.  Meeting God or having that spiritual experience has been domesticated by the church and we deny the power of such mysterious experiences at our peril.

We should try more often to engaging with the mythos story and myth rather than giving in to the temptation to forget.  Jeanette Winterson writes in the Guardian.  This piece from some years ago on Art and God:

Art is a different value system.  Like God, we have legitimate doubts about its existence but, like God, art leaves us with footprints of beauty.  We sense there is more to life than the material world can provide, and art is a clue, an imitation, at its best, a transformation.  We don’t need to believe in it, but we can experience it.