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.

Wilderness

I’ve been reading I, Daniel Blake.  It is a true story, though not real.  The contents of the story are happening all around us, though this particular telling has not actually taken place.  It is in some sense a wilderness book.  It leads us to a place from where there can be no escape if we are unfortunate enough to get within its grasp.  Reading the script you are caught up almost with the protagonists between living and existing.  Wilderness, so we understand it: A place of nothing.  Or a place undiscovered.  Or a place wild and untamed.  In reality wilderness is in direct relation to the human perceiving it.  For no place is truly wild to itself, it is what it is.  A rainforest is a rainforest.  Human perception calls it inhospitable.  The desert is sand.  That humans find it hard to traverse was useful in fact for the early desert fathers, St. Anthony and his band of followers who went out into the desert to escape the business of modern life.  There were no distractions out there in the desert, but then into that silence comes all our issues.  What the desert fathers would have called demons.  And so we begin forty days of wrestling with our demons as we attempt to give up chocolate or take on some other ascetic challenge.  But note the text from Matthew’s Gospel if that is your perception of Lent.  It is only after the forty days of fasting in the desert that the devil comes to Jesus.  Temptation waits with eager longing for the moment when we are most at risk and vulnerable and then leads us to the high mountain, to the pinnacle of the temple or to the bread basket.  These temptations are ours too.  We just don’t see them the same.  For who has not been tempted by cheap and easy food?  Who has not been tempted by destructive living? Who has not been tempted by the glory that power might bring?  Not Jesus, he overcomes the temptations and escapes from the wilderness.  Certainly he is not unscathed.  Wilderness is all around us.  It is just that they don’t look the same as they used to.  For wilderness can be the pages of social media of apparently happy lives broadcast continually to the device in our pocket when all we want to do is scream that all is not well.  It is sitting on a a street corner watching the world pass you by as invisible as the air.    Wilderness can be the world of must have when all you can manage is the day to day of getting by.  When you’re expected to understand a conversation but were lost after the first hello.  Or when the only sound you can make out is the background noise and the voices around you fade into the general hubbub.  Wilderness is a million jobs you cannot apply for and a million more you are overqualified for and the one you can do is taken by the kid who doesn’t care and wastes the weekend pay check against the wall of a pub.  Wilderness is when the skills you do have are deemed no longer important.  When your outward appearance says your doing fine, but inwardly you are crying out for help.  When you try to help those around you make a better life for themselves than you have and all you do is make the situation worse.  Wilderness is slowly pushing those whom you love away because you have forgotten how to say I love you.  Wilderness is not absence, but presence.  The worst wilderness is the one in the mind where internally everything makes complete sense, but none of those around you seem to understand any more.  Wilderness is feeling that you are on your own with no-one who can understand or help.  And at the end of the line come the temptations to take it all away with an easy fix, too good to be true offers and a loan that will never be repaid.  I, Daniel Blake is a wilderness book for it rescues us from our illusions.  If you’ve not read it or seen the film, then I recommend you do.  And I might just, wilderness allowing, revisit it by the time we get to Easter.

One Day won’t last forever

anointedbeforestormPassion Sunday for me is about being uncomfortable in a comfortable place.  A bolt hole, a place of refuge, a place to go before a difficult encounter.  A favourite cafe.  A bench on a hill.  A place with friends where one can be natural, uninhibited, perhaps.  A place to relax and let the hair down.  A place of calm before the storm.  A place to go running.  A favourite film perhaps that takes us away from reality for a while.  Something to watch and indulge in before returning to important tasks. During Lent I’ve been reflecting each week on the film One Day.  The film has taken us on a journey with two friends whose lives we visit once each year on St. Swithin’s day.  From terrible London flats smelling of onions to awful post university jobs in restaurants and television.  From meetings in France to returning to the family home.  From difficult conversations with parents to distant answer phone messages.  Missed calls and missed opportunities.  From new jobs, to new boyfriends.  From bad jobs to car crash employment.  Terrible live television to all star school plays.  Rows in restaurants to dead end relationships.  Break downs and making up to put downs and pick me ups.  By the end we are left with two people who we know so very well and who ought to be so very right for one another.  They are comfortable with each other, though not always comforting to each other.  Comfortable like an old sofa which has learnt our body shape.  By the end it is being in the sort of place that you might think ought never to come to an end.  Like a favourite book which we put down just before the final chapter because we would rather not finish it off.  But come to an end the story must.  Passion Sunday.  The moment before the final moment.  The calm before the storm.  Gathered with friends in a house sharing a meal together.  We are told that at least Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Judas and Jesus were there.  The comfortable moment is broken as Mary anoints Jesus with nard and Judas complains about the cost of it.  One Day only gives us a day a year, but it is enough to become close.  At the end it leaves us wondering about the missed moments and that we really need to make the most of each moment that we do see.  The Gospel readings are the same in that we only hear a little of the story.  Six days before the passover, we see them gathered together.  A place of preparation.  A time to reflect with friends over a meal, have you ever noticed the meal mentioned before?  Before make their way into Jerusalem.  What else went on at that gathering?  It seems to me that Mary and Martha’s house was a place to gather and plan their strategy.  We hear that Jesus visits this home on at least three occasions.  A friends house would be the ideal place to plan the next move.  To plan the events we are about to remember from Palm Sunday to Easter.  It seems a deliberate attempt was being made to provoke the authorities.  For such an encounter, preparation is perhaps the most important.  Not the twenty years as we see in One Day.  But the point of a comfortable place of refuge is for that space of preparation and if preparation is required, then there ought to be some form of confrontation.    Was that the point of meeting at the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  We hear none of that sat around the meal table with Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Judas and Jesus.  The conversation turns sour as Judas remarks on the perfume and Jesus retorts about his future.  As we prepare to enter into that story at the passover festival, are we left in anticipation of the final moment? Or is the story a little too familiar.  One that perhaps we think we know very well and so read it through quickly.  So this Passion Sunday, I’d like to invite you to dwell with this image of Jesus sat around the table with his friends.  What would we like to know?  What questions would we ask at that table?  Would we be the one to break open the jar of ointment?  What was the smell like?  Was it this event that prompted the writing down of this event, turned into a prophetic moment of Jesus’ final days as he remarks that he will not always be with them.  The moment is gone as quickly as it came, the story moves on to the next moment.  For us, for a while, it is good to be left around that table with the remains of the meal and to consider where we might go after such an encounter.  Do we choose to walk onwards with Jesus to Jerusalem, or choose to remain in the place of safety and comfort?