Candlemas Bells

If there were a flower for prophecy it
would be the snow-white bells arriving
early in time for Candlemas arrogant
even a brash flower cutting through the
cold earth it comes resilient, hardy.
Beauty beguiles its strength.
Amidst the darkness expectant of the
warmth to come our instinct is to light
candles. An incandescent dream.
Inefficient of light but life enough to stir
the soul into speaking. The snowdrop
harbinger of those who hear the silent
call to defiance of convention.

Sabbath Rest? Coda!

They say God left the best till last. I’m not talking about the humans, created as our genesis narrative would have us think on the sixth day, at the 11th hour.  Better throw something into the mix to stir it up a bit.  It’s all a bit too perfect.  Closing time never offers the finest work, a last thought after a busy week, oh yes the humans.  I know it’s a caricature, and it is all a bit Eddie Izzard.  If we look at the genesis material, there is nothing to say that what came last is best or better than the rest.  That’s just our understanding of it because, strangely enough it was written down by us, or at least our early relations perhaps in Iraq somewhere between the Tigris and the Euphrates – trying to make sense of the world they saw around them. On most calendars Sunday is the first day of the week.  Or is Sunday the last day of the week on yours?  Is Sunday what you build up to, or work from.  The Jewish Sabbath was the last day of the week.  The Jewish celebrations for Sabbath centre on the Genesis narrative of creation building up to the seventh day.  As God rested from all his work, so Jewish communities  honour it.  It is a chicken and egg question.  Which came first?  Creation narrative or Sabbath rest. I’d go with sabbath rest.  Why?  Because the early tribes who followed this particular way of life were nomadic and were closely attached to the land.  They understood the natural seasons far better than we do.  Look at the jubilee regulations.  Every seventh year there should be a sabbath for the land.  This wasn’t just thought up, this was good land husbandry.  There was also an economic jubilee.  So however it came about, the Jewish tribes followed a Sabbath at the end of the week and at the seventh year and the 70th year.  In Christianity, the first Easter was the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath.  In effect we moved sabbath to Sunday, we’ve just added the Easter celebrations to the Jewish festival, and transferred that on top of Sunday.  However, I wonder if it is possible to recapture the essence of sabbath.  Not viewed in a strictly linear way as the genesis narrative would have us think.  But what is intended by a day of rest.  Sabbath, for me, should stand outside of time.  It is not a day but a state of mind.  Do we allow ourselves to think in terms of true sabbath at all?  Sunday can become so holy and precious that we are not able to rest for all the business of services and worship preparation, planning and looking to the future.  I want to distinguish between Sabbath and The Sabbath.  What then has The Sabbath become?  A day (for some) to twiddle thumbs waiting for the shops to open once again?  Those days are long past.  The Sabbath in that sense has been forgotten save for a few faithful travellers.  A return to those days is a wistful dream.  But what is the essence of that?  Though Sunday closing for shops, business and pubs will not return, there is something to be honoured in that desire for stillness, to see seventh day restfulness for ourselves for the land and for the economic.  I’d like to suggest that sunday ought to be the ‘day of preparation.’  In the Jewish tradition this was the sixth day of the week.  All the preparations for the sabbath were done on this day.  The meal, the house everything was prepared to observe the Sabbath.  I always wonder, as indeed did Jesus, what happened to all the farmers on the sabbath, surely they could not prepare everything for the animals in advance.  Jesus asks, who would not untie his donkey on the sabbath to allow him a drink of water.  It is not about doing nothing, but about having the right state of mind.  In order that we can carry that state of mind of sabbath with us throughout the week, in order that we can have sabbath moments in all our work and in all we do, perhaps Sunday should become for us the day of preparation.  A day not necessarily to prepare food for the week, or though for some that is what it has already become – by that I mean the shopping day!  I don’t think we ought to beat ourselves up about this.  I think we can give a new significance to Sunday without diminishing the aspect of Sabbath which is most important and without making us feel guilty for doing something on one particular day of the week when days are so full for the rest of it.  Sunday is a Coda day.  A day to reflect, but also to rise up and be engaged.  A day to take notice of all that is around us and to care about it.  A day to help us prepare to take sabbath into the rest of the week where we can we be co re-creators with the divine re-imagining, regenerating the lost beauty, faith, justice and art of creation.

Too much said

Reconciliation: Coventry Cathedral

Reconciliation: Coventry Cathedral

You may have heard that it was said:  An eye for and eye makes the whole world blind.  Gandhi had a particular way of distilling the wisdom of not just one set of religious teachings.  It is said that he saw himself as Hindu and Muslim and Christian.  This often angers people, mostly, I think, because they don’t understand it.  He is saying, I think, that no one person owns truth, goodness or love.  In order to find this out we must begin to live it in humility.  In this particular passage from Matthew (5: 21-37) after the well known part of the sermon on the mount Jesus continues to teach with something that is often overlooked and relegated to the occasional Sunday reading that doesn’t often get heard except when Easter is late in the year and we need to fill in time in the lectionary after Candlemas.  Jesus is seen to be teaching in a traditional Rabbinical style.  Well, at least he begins in that way.  As usual he doesn’t play by the same rules as everyone else.  So much for the call to obedience.  We can’t expect Jesus to do as he might be expected.  When the formula You have heard it said was used, it would be normal to expand upon the law with traditional wisdom of the age encouraging those who heard it to keep the law.  But Jesus prefers to do something different.  Jesus prefers to interpret the law again not for the benefit of a particular group, but for the benefit of all in the light of what he sees, and the actions of those around him.  Don’t stick to the letter of the law, stick to the spirit of it instead in terms of compassion and mercy and humility.  So when you have heard that it was said…  Jesus says don’t stop with what you are duty bound to do – go on and walk another mile.  (as this passage continues to say if we read on)  That too broke the rules.  The rules of engagement between Roman soldiers and the people was that they could command a civilian to carry their pack for one mile.  Jesus says no.  Carry it for two.  In walking further they will be in your debt and will see that you do not hold the law against them.  You are duty bound to carry it for one, but the second you carry it in love.  If however you throw down their pack after the one mile, they will see that you hate them as they expected and begrudge their presence.  Walk the second mile and you may begin to understand each other.  It is the beginning of reconciliation.  Jesus shows that following the letter of the law does not honour the spirit in which it was intended.  Jesus shows up the trap in which we find ourselves and offers a transformative solution.  Conventional wisdom says something simple, a teaching like those contained here.  Relatively straight forward.  However Jesus suggests that it is possible to get caught in the position where, though you have kept the letter of the law you are still constrained by what led you to that position.  Then Jesus offers a transforming initiative, he offers a way out.  Don’t let the feelings which lead you to that position build up.  Instead, be reconciled and do it immediately.  Recognise and own your feelings for what they are and deal with them straight away.
Therefore paraphrase Jesus:  It is said, don’t murder; but I say: don’t let your feelings take you to that place – deal with them and be reconciled.
It is said, don’t commit adultery; but I say: don’t live in a fantasy, it ruins our relationships. Live in the real world.
It is said, divorce is just a piece of paper; but I say: Life is not a game.   Things become broken, recognise the reasons for that and own up to any mistakes we have made.  Treat everyone in mutuality and with kindness.  Every human should be treated with equity and dignity no matter what.
It is said, don’t swear falsely… but I say: don’t let language become an outlet for negative desire and anger.  Use words properly for the use they were intended.  Always speak truth.
In the film Gandhi a Hindu fighter tells Gandhi his story.  He has murdered a Muslim child as a revenge killing for the murder of his own son and says that he is going to hell.  Gandhi suggests to him that there is a way out of hell.  He tells the Hindu man to take a Muslim boy and raise him as his own.  But to be sure that he, a Hindu, raise the boy as a Muslim.  No-one said reconciliation was easy.  If we allow ourselves to lose the false pride of truth, rights and simple morality we can begin to live in mutuality and with kindness towards all, no matter who they are or where they are from.