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.

Beit Lahem – The House of Bread

Midnight Mass 2013:  Beit Lahem – The House of Bread.

beit lahemIt’s not Christmas without the ‘Christmas Special’.  Call me old and past it if you like, but – they don’t make them like the used to!  Except perhaps for Dr. Who and we’ll have to wait till the evening of Christmas Day for that.  The timeless episode of Fr. Ted springs to mind where the Priests out Christmas shopping inadvertently run into the largest lingerie department in the country – apparently.  Complete with unwanted Christmas guests and an award or two.  Of course the Jewel in the crown of Christmas specials in my opinion dates from Boxing Day 1977, the last but one aired episode of The Good Life.

Christmas – according to Margo came in a van – but owing to the fact that the tree delivered was 6 1/4 inches too short meant that the whole delivery was sent back.  Christmas – come the day itself has not been delivered, at least not at the Leadbetters.  With Jerry down with a dose of political chicken pox Jerry and Margo accept the invitation to Tom and Barbara’s for the day.  Typically, the Good’s Christmas is simple, yet simply the best they have ever had, especially with the absence of Mrs Dooms-Patterson on the social horizon.  For Jerry and Margo, Tom and Barbara’s Christmas was a Beit Lahem – a house of bread.  A place of hospitality and welcome, where one was able to let one’s hair down, even if chased into it by Tom with Mistletoe!  Bread is a symbol of hospitality.  We break bread and share a cup of wine this night.  It makes sense this night of all nights as a symbol of the Hospitality of God come to earth in the form of a child.

Terry Pratchet wrote in the Hogfather on Hope.  Whilst Death, (impersonating the Hogfather to keep belief alive) is giving children what they want for Hogswatch, (similar to our Christmas) Albert (David Jason) impersonating an elf suggests that you shouldn’t give children what they ask for because then there is nothing to hope for.  If all your hopes are realised in one day, then there is nothing to hope for tomorrow.  Bread today fills today’s hungry bellies.  But bread promised for tomorrow, now you can sell that forever. Death disagrees and fills the child’s stocking.

The hope for the future that is promised at Christmas in the God-child is a hope for a brighter future – one based upon the kingdom that Jesus taught of and lived out in his own life.  Jesus taught to live each day as it comes.  If we live according to his kingdom, bread everyday can be a reality.  That’s something worth hoping for, especially with the growing poverty here in the UK.  At the end of the film Hogfather we see Terry Pratchet the author in a cameo role as the toymaker selling Death the carved wooden horse that Albert hoped for all his life.  Hope for tomorrow means little and leaves us empty without bread for today.  As you leave tonight you’ll be offered a spiced sweet bread.  Bread for the journey, for today.  Full of eastern promise for tomorrow.  (checks watch) Merry Christmas.