Moments of clarity at the well of life

header_4Everyone I suspect has had at least one experience in their life which changes them.  A seminal moment if you like, or a moment of clarity.  I have had a number of them, and it’s not that i’ve been going looking, they don’t seem to happen if you intentionally go out to have one – more’s the pity.  But then again, if you actually wanted a change of direction in your life and worked at it, there is no reason why you couldn’t actually achieve it without the moment of clarity.  Of course, these special moments don’t change everything overnight, but they do change your perspective.  The first one I can remember in any detail was on Iona encountering the liturgy, prayers and work of the Iona Community in the wild and untamed inner Hebrides.  It wasn’t the Islands, the deserted beaches, the stories of ancient saints walking the earth as such, but just the space for a little clear thinking.  It could have happened anywhere, but it didn’t, it happened there.  The simplicity, the faith and the inclusivity of the Iona vision was so compelling in the light of the gospel, and in the light of the early morning sun creeping over the abbey at something approaching dawn that never again did I feel that the gospel was about conscription to a set of what might appear to be constraining regulations.  For the first time the gospel was actually about freedom and being released from the powers that others attempted to hold over us.  That’s a pretty amazing revelation.  I may be as fervent in my belief that Jesus offers us freedom as those who believe in the condemnation of pretty much everything which may seem to be an expression of their own anxieties and fears.  The counter argument to mine is of course: ‘if you allow unlimited freedom then where does it stop’? to which I would reply, it stops with the radical love shown by Jesus.  If we are all filled with that radical love for ourselves and our neighbour then no-one can go hungry, no-one is discriminated against and no-one holds power unduly over another.  This contrast is offered in the Gospel reading from John 4:5-42 and it remains one of the gospel stories that never fails to capture my interest and attention.  It is also reflected in the story of the Devil wears Prada.  If you’ve been following the story you’ll know that Andrea has a job she doesn’t understand in an industry she doesn’t much care about working for, quite literally, Miranda, the boss from hell!  However things have taken a little turn and Andrea has embraced the fashion industry in an attempt to win a little favour with the boss.  She is set about learning about this ‘stuff’ so much so that it has changed her whole outlook on life.  As she returns to her friends, they notice the great change in her from happy unconcerned Andrea to the uptight and work obsessed Andrea that is before them.  She has changed from someone who would openly discuss, question and expect justification for actions to one who jumps into immediate action without question at the sound of the phone ringing and without thought to the consequences, morality or legality of her actions.  You’ll notice of course that it is the opposite of what is going on in our story from John’s gospel.  The woman who meets Jesus at the well is released from the power that was held over her, whereas Andrea is slowly being made captive.  You’ll notice also that the woman at the well is almost instantly transformed, however Andrea is slowly indoctrinated, drugged with clothes, accessories and the want for the appreciation of her boss.  The woman at the well is released from her demons as Jesus gently spells out home truths to her.  Andrea, when confronted by her friends about her change of perspective and actions digs her Jimmy Choo heels in and defends the system to which she is becoming servant.  It’s going to take a lot more than a conversation beside a watering hole to help Andrea see the light.  But it takes no more than one woman’s  afternoon in the company of Jesus to change the life of a whole village.  Alastair McIntosh has summed up what I now ask of everything I do:  “Is what I’m doing now feeding the hungry?”, “Is it relevant to the poor or to the broken in nature?”, “Does it contribute to understanding and meaningfulness?” And the central spiritual question, “Does it give life?”

There is but one way…

… to get rid of the snow, and that it to build a sled for the children.  When I have finished it, (June or July sometime) the snow will be gone!  Whilst deciding whether or not to clear the drive and risk the car this morning – (nah, walk!) I was browsing a few books that need finishing.  See my not quite a new year resolution.  At the back of Rowan Williams’ Silence and Honey cakes there is an interesting question and answer section.  In one he expands a little on Vladimir Lossky’s idea of individual and person.

He suggests:

“For every person there is one way in which they can show God, and only they can do it like that.”

I like this attitude very much.  It is respectful of personal distinctiveness.  It allows for a diversity seldom approached in the church.   If reflects the sermon I chickened out of a week or so ago on John 1:10-18. It was mainly on verse 17  and the meaning of the words from which are derived the phrase ‘Grace and Truth’ mainly in the Hebrew word Chesed.  The part at which I stopped short would have said that we have created anew the law and are living in subservience to that, rather than in witness to the ‘Grace and Truth’.  If you take this to its (I’ll have to say ‘perhaps’ here because I’m part of the problem) logical conclusion the structures and organisation or business based Church (basically control) which we run is putting into a small box something that was never intended to be contained and until we let go of control and allow people to be ruled by the heart we will always be smothering something beautiful.  To be continued, after another book I’ve not yet finished – A Celtic Model of Ministry.

Just Gardening

I was gardening.  Just that.  Strimming the overgrown grass, revealing the flowers that had been planted along the labyrinth path in the churchyard.  It always had a queer sort of fascination with the locals, seeing someone tending something new, something unexpected and many would stop and chat, poking good humoured fun or questioning why.  On this particular occasion, I was supposed to be sat in the ‘vestry’ waiting for baptism applicants and the like, but the grass really did need cutting.  So I was just gardening.  I say ‘just gardening’ because some might suspect the old Chaplaincy method of ‘lurking with intent’, but I was definitely just gardening, I was even dressed as a gardener so there would be no confusion.  As I strimmed and plucked blown-in rubbish from the path, an image from John’s Gospel came to mind.  Mary Magdalene by the empty tomb.  She does not find Jesus laid out there.  She turns and speaks to who she supposes to be the gardener.  Mary is searching for someone, for her Lord, friend and companion.  Jesus does not stand up and say ‘here I am’ but waits quietly, gardening, one presumes.  She is weeping.  Concerned, he asks her what is wrong, and she asks if he knows where he is laid.  The gardener calls her by name, and she recognises Jesus.
I think I’ll continue gardening, ‘without intent’ and if someone happens by and asks those searching questions, then I can point them in the right direction.