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.

The twisted tree is me

twisted treeAt first glance this tree looks quite ordinary.  Almost dead, but quite ordinary.  Perhaps a slightly more charitable assessment would be to suggest that it is clinging on to life.  It is, I hope still there, on a footpath above Trefriw up towards Llyn Geirionydd, for it is worth going to see.  There are countless thousands of trees around us but this one in particular caught my attention, caused me to turn aside for a moment.  On closer inspection the trunk of the tree is twisted beyond all reasonable expectation.  The trunktwisting continues up through the branches as they reach for the skies.  The twist is always anti-clockwise as it runs up the tree.  It looks as if it is continually turning to find the sun, but never succeeding.  A perpetual corkscrew of bark and wood.  Perhaps once the tree had a glorious canopy, but not today.    It is the teenager of trees, the Ash – late to rise into leaf!  Today they are bare branches holding themselves out to the sky as if in hope for one final flourishing.  The temptation to personify the tree is strong.  To imagine the tree as a person with wounds and scars of life bared for all to see.  One who opens out their arms, as if to say ‘Here I am this is who I am and it is all there is’ in some sort of public confession.  Daring those who see to condemn rather than to accept.  To turn away rather than seek understanding.  To see deformity rather than elegance.  What has happened to cause the tree to twist like this perhaps we will never know.  There are the usual scars where a branch has been taken or fallen but nothing to suggest why it has contorted so.  The list of reasons suggested why trees grow like this drift quickly to mythology and folklore.  Twisted trees are said to be a sign of a spring nearby.  In the Welsh Mabinogion it is an Ash staff that Gwyddion bears.  A symbol of healing and transformation.  Physician, heal thyself!  More down to earth suggestions are that it has been struck by lightening.  The resultant twist coming from a contraction of the fibres in the tree which naturally grow in a spiral.  Trees in the open as this one is are prone to the wind and sun bending branches one way, then pulling them another.  However the tree came to be like this doesn’t take away from its peculiarity.  It is a thing of beauty in all its contortions.
It is possible to see this tree as a mirror of life as we struggle through continually seeking that which nourishes us.  Accepting the blows and difficulties turning continually away from them and in search of something brighter.  These are the things which make us who we are.  We would not be the same without them, we, like every other tree I passed that day, would not stand out.   Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz Webber has written a great book called ‘Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the wrong people.’  The book is part of the story of her life.  From stand up comic, alcoholic, tattoo canvas and more she is perhaps an unlikely suspect for Pastor of a church.  Yet, it is in her brokenness that the wholeness becomes visible.  Nadia has exposed the darkest parts of her life for public scrutiny and has come through it all.  She is who she is before God.  Her honesty is enough.  It has been said of her that she preaches to herself and lets other people overhear.  If you think you are not good enough to be part of the kingdom of God, read her books, you’ll soon find yourself right at home.  We are all wounded in some way or other.  Acknowledging it and bearing it gives us our strength.  A twisted tree trunk gives incredibly strong timber, though often overlooked by the timber miller who looks for consistent grain.  Psalm 118 – the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  In the words of the deuteronomist:  ‘I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.’  Or in the words of the Gospel of Luke:  ‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’  We each carry our cross.  In baptism we are marked with the sign of the cross, a reminder to bear our weaknesses, failures and be proud of who we are before God.

Dust – Creation Sunday

Ok so I have been reading Philip Pullman recently his Dark Materials Trilogy!  And ‘The Golden Compass’ based on the first of the books, ‘Northern Lights’ was an engaging film, however ‘Dust’ is given an altogether different status in the books and it turns out that what he calls dust in the fist book / film is really dark matter – sub-atomic particles searched for by physicists – so called experimental theology!  Yes, it’s a good read!  But I mean ordinary dust, and not the sort that clogs the vacuum or hangs around the skirting board, but the Dust of the earth.  It will be Lent soon and on Ash Wednesday we mark ourselves with ash, dust, and say ‘Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return’.
Dust.  I wonder if we are content to be just Dust? For we are creatures born of the earth and to the earth we return.  There is no-one, no matter what they attain in this life who can escape that!  This past week I have spent two days travelling, back and forward to meetings.  First to London, then on to Cardiff, then back home.  I have to say that though I enjoy travelling, the train is one of those strange places in which most people are keen to avoid any connection to other passengers.  And of course there is the inevitable man (or woman) but it just happened to be a man on the phone.  Briefcase open, diary alert, talking about the forthcoming meeting with a colleague, what he did last night, and all the latest gossip.  Probably enough to embarrass him greatly if it were ever revealed, and yet it was proclaimed for all to hear.  I don’t want to know!  He was the only passenger on that train of course, as far as his world was concerned.  They were all busy.  All had something important to be doing and it was quite obvious that conversation was not an option.  I arrived in London at Euston Road, and since I had half an hour, decided to walk the short distance through the City, past Regent’s Park and Madame Tussauds on to Marylebone Road.  All were busy, busy, busy.  Heads up, walking purposefully.  It was lunch time.  Small bags with sandwiches swung by many a walker, eager to get back to the office for a working lunch no doubt.  Were any of these content with their nature as Dust?  There seemed to be an air of trying to advance, get out, get on up.  The next pay rise, the next promotion, the big deal that would make it all.  Something to be attained, just around the corner that would elevate to a new level away from the street where all were just the same.  And yet, all are dust and unto dust they shall return.  Are we content to be just dust?  The only contentment on that short walk was ironically the guitar playing student outside the academy of music.  No doubt playing for subsistence, and yet in those tones and chords, a strange contentment was evident.  Knowing who she was.  After 3 hours of meeting the tube train was necessary to whisk me away to Paddington.  It’s a strange contraption.  50 or so humans in a metal tube all ever so intent not to make eye contact with anyone else!  But all are the same as each other.  In essence nothing separates us from each other, we are all but dust and were they content to be just dust, to be common to each other?  The next train blissfully away to Cardiff, not that things are much different there, but it’s a city I know and i’ve written before on walking here.  I have an evening and a morning to wait before the next onslaught of paper and notes so I take the time to be content with life.  Contentment is perhaps the hardest of the spiritual disciplines and requires of one a belief that attainment of stuff or wealth only serves itself and not the supposed owner.  To be aware of ones nature is to be released.  It is a reason for celebration, a moment of pure joy for when we become content that we are but dust, then we can begin to live as truly human.  We become who we are and recognise our true nature in common with all humanity that we are dust of the earth out of which God created all life and to which we ultimately return.  Such is our nature and the moment we realise that we are released to live as God intended, in commonality with all and to the best of our own potential.  It is a delightful gift to be of the dust for through it we are blessed indeed as creation itself is blessed.