Shaking off the dust on The Way

Knowing when to stay, knowing when to leave is one of the most challenging invitations for discernment that we will ever encounter and no this is not about the politics shenanigans surrounding the dreaded ‘b’ word.  When is it time to move on, to shake the dust from your feet and to continue on the journey?  

There are times, for staying leaning against the resistance that we meet; times when God calls us to engage difficulties and struggles that will shape and form us and those we meet in a way that ease and comfort never can. There is ground that becomes holy only when we remain long enough to see the blessings that can emerge from struggle, that shimmers through only after the dust the struggle has kicked up finally begins to settle.  And then there are times for leaving; times when—as Jesus counsels his disciples—the holy thing to do is to shake the dust from our feet and leave behind a place that is no longer meant for us.  But this is not just for those of us whose calling it is to move from place to place.  It is for all of us.  For we will from time to time all need to move on, spiritually, politically, emotionally, physically;  knowing when the time is right is an important task of self knowledge and discernment.  As we journey through Lent towards Easter we can easily get stuck in the wilderness, hopefully that is only metaphorically speaking but knowing the terrain in Snowdonia – you never know.  We can get stuck in the spiritual wilderness of Lent -or I suspect comfortable might be a more appropriate word, comfortable, unable, unwilling perhaps to move on in the journey.  And in Lent, the journey towards Easter, unwilling perhaps to accept the transformation that might come if we were to move on.  The transformation Easter brings means things are never the same on the other side. And because we celebrate Easter every year, that means a continual getting up and moving on – keeping ourselves moving on physically, emotionally, politically, spiritually.  The film ‘The Way’ is about walking on in pilgrimage but it’s also about life and death, about staying and leaving.  Knowing when to remain and when to shake the dust off and move on.  Tom, the main character did not set out to walk the Camino, but he found himself walking the way after his son died on the first day of his own pilgrimage.  Tom becomes an unlikely, unusual and at times unwilling pilgrim.  We’ll meet the characters as they walk between a variety of places receiving hospitality in many of the Refugios along the Camino St. Iago de Compostella.  But I want to reflect on one in particular – one where the temptation would have been to shake off the dust rather too soon and make for the road before time.  Our fellow travellers have arrived at Burgos a town where like may others gypsies live alongside the rest of the population and are often mistrusted.  They are relaxing after a long day’s walk, reunited with friends from earlier on the journey.  Tom’s pack which contains the box of his Son’s ashes is stolen by a gypsy boy.  Despite chasing him through the town they do not find him or the pack.  Tom is unwilling to leave the ashes of his Son behind.  As they return to the Refugio Tom is ready to pack up, get a flight home and to give up on the whole journey.  He is about to wipe the dust of this crazy expedition off his feet.  He began it on a whim, why not end it abruptly too.  However, the gipsy boy’s father walks into the the bar with Tom’s pack untouched, and extends an invitation to all the travellers to join them for an evening meal and entertainment as an apology.  Tom accepts and gets more than an evening’s food and entertainment.  Ishmael speaks to him about his son and suggests he walk on, beyond Compostella to place his son’s remains in the sea. Not for religious reasons, but for him and for his Son.

To truly shake the dust off his feet – this can come to it’s proper end, then he can move on. Shaking the dust off our feet is not about condemnation of another for we notice that Luke tells us that the The Kingdom of God is near to all, both those who welcome the disciples word and those who do not.  Shaking off the dust is about knowing when it is right to move on, for us, not to let the past dictate our future encounters and journey, to allow, when they come, opportunities that times like Lent and Easter bring to allow us to move on physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Jesus tells us to travel with no purse or bag or sandles and even to shake the dust from our feet lest it be a burden to us as we journey on.  For as Tom and his companions found out in The Way, much as we might want to be prepared ourselves, the Journey is always about letting go, about the hospitality of others, and ultimately the hospitality of God.

The Way and the Transfiguration

If you expect me to tell you to get out and climb a mountain this week in order that you’re face shine enough to suggest to those around you that you have been face to   face with God, as Moses and Jesus have in the Bible story of the Transfiguration then you’ll be disappointed.  You just need to find and sit in a patch of Late winter Sun, as I did this year when we experienced a rather warmer than usual end to February.  Sadly no divine presence – but a strange warming sensation I’ve not experienced for a while, probably since last Autumn!  We hear in the story of the transfiguration Moses and Jesus climbing to a high place before a confrontation.  The times folk do this in the bible, climb a mountain, go out into a desert, go out into a boat, cross a lake, take a moment out, find some clarity, be prepared for the next happening.  As we embark upon Lent on Ash Wednesday, leading ultimately to Holy Week and Easter, perhaps we too need to take that step back and see the whole picture.  And we are offered it here in Luke, looking towards Jerusalem.  Before we begin Lent with the whole journey before us it feels (to me at least) as if I am wholly unprepared for what is to come.  Life can turn on a pin head sometimes.  It happens so often when news comes fast and it matters not really what the news is, whether it be the death of a loved one, a crisis of some sort, even a birth or other unexpected arrival.  What changes our course is the perspective, the focus upon the person, the happening the event brings.  In the film The Way, Martin Sheen’s character Tom finds out that his Son Daniel has died suddenly in an accident.  So begins his journey, The Way of St. James, the Camino Sant Iago de Compostella.  For those outside his experience it seems not to make any sense at all. His sudden change of focus is unwavering as everything looks different from the inside.  As Tom looks over his Son Daniel’s ruck sac and possessions he decides rashly perhaps to walk the Way his Son had set out on.  His companions along the way may not have been the ones he would have chosen.  Indeed, he wanted to walk alone.  He wanted no-one to interfere with his grief, with his personal journey, or know the reasons for it.  Yet there is one path, so realistically they will continue to bump into each other at least sometimes.  So why not walk together.  A journey like this might even appear irrational.  Why set out on the road?  Which metaphorical road do we take?  The high road, the low road, the long and winding road, the lonesome road, the royal road, the open road, private road, road to hell, the tobacco road, crooked road the straight and narrow road, the road stretching into infinity? The right road and of course the road we all fear we have taken from time to time, the wrong road.  Which begs the question, what am I doing here?  What am I doing now?  Where are we?  Time to stop and rewind, get some perspective.  Everyone has a starting point for their journey, it might not be the Camino, it might even be making it through this next week, day even, or perhaps the journey through Lent that begins on Ash Wednesday.  The first task is to recognise where you are and to begin where you are.  We ought to begin from where we are on the journey towards Holy Week and Easter.  If you’ve never made that journey through Holy Week, followed the way of the cross, then perhaps this year can be a first opportunity.  On the Sunday before Lent we have the opportunity to look out over the weeks to come in order to prepare for what is ahead of us.  Which road will we take?  Some of us will take the Pilgrimage road that leads from Penmachno to Dolwyddelan on Good Friday, and on Holy Saturday, on from Dolwyddelan to Llanrhychwyn where we will welcome the first light of Easter.  The journey does not end at Easter.  We’ll walk on towards Llangelynnin to join the way to Enlli, the North Wales Pilgrim Way.  Our very own Camino de William Morgan begins here.  Though the way is not yet well trodden nor the path well known, it is there ready for us to embark.  So to is our journey into Lent and Holy Week, it is only for us to accept the invitation, and perhaps we too will come as Jesus and Moses face to face with God.  All this helps us to see ourselves more clearly and to recognise the imprint of God on each one of us.  No need for a mountain, just a mirror and the wisdom to see clearly in the glass darkly.

Welcome to the feast

Matthew’s parable of the marriage feast (Matt. 22. 1-14) has its origins in something much older. Luke has a version of it too, both probably added to it in order to say something to their communities. Matthew to the Jews, Luke to a wider audience. So the great supper in Luke becomes a Marriage feast and the certain man becomes a king. Matthew raises the stakes as he tells the story. Christians were being persecuted, the temple destroyed in 70ce and so we hear this reflected in the story as slaves are killed and the ‘king’ sends his army to burn the city.

How might we re-tell it today? Who is offering the feast and for whom? Who is invited? Who turns away? What are the consequences? Who ends up at the meal?

Don’t get confused with Matthew tagging on the bit about the marriage garment, it’s a different story, and asks: ‘Are we clothed with the right frame of mind?’ Not as you might be tempted to read it, that, even if you’ve been invited, you’re still not welcome. Everyone has been invited, and everyone is welcome. Some just choose to choose not to come.

Can we talk of a spiritual malaise of our time with this parable? I wonder what for us is the feast? Are there many who have chosen to choose not to partake? I don’t mean turning up to church on a Sunday morning, for that can be as bad as anything else we do without the ‘right garment’ (don’t forget that’s not about millinery).

We’ve lost a language of the feast of the kingdom. The language to speak of deep things such as pain and suffering and death and by and large we have been distracted by trivial matters because it is so difficult to talk about things that are real. Some years ago a film tried in part to speak about this – many people avoided it because of the violence, language and drug use, however it did have a point and it called us to reflect on our choices:

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family, Choose a big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fabrics.
Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning”

This sounds so old, it is.  20 years in fact.  I suspect even if you’d not seen Trainspotting, you’ll recognise the rail against materialism which I’m told is all but over. it’s been replaced by exerientialism. Which may not have been a word until a few moments ago. Welcome to the consumption of experience. (Radio 4’s Costing the earth addresses this very issue) By the way, did anyone tweet that they were coming to church this morning, or is it on facebook, instagram, snapchat? There is now 4G here so you could probably live web cast the experience… (if you wanted to…) So the twenty years later sequel T2 rails against social media and offers a jab at the culture of zero hour contracts, unfulfilled promises, never learning from our mistakes, slowly reconciling ourselves towards what we can get rather than what we had dreamed of, Watching history repeat itself.
And again the King invites us to the feast and still we’re not yet ready. We’ve been distracted by stone temples, faculties, PCC meetings, summer fetes, the size of scones with jam first, or is it scones with cream first and the minutes of the last meeting mis-spelling someones name, the lighting not being to the current ecological expectations, cutting the grass to less than a quarter inch lest someone complain. And we neglect to speak of the great things that attending the feast brings. The feast of life that is living with God’s love. The love that knows no limit. Living in the knowledge of who we are despite what we might own or have means to do. The love of life for its own sake, the life that Jesus taught us to have, and to have in abundance.

Welcome to the feast.