of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?
Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
flung on resistance.
A poem for those times we are taken aback by the givenness of life, and the inner imperative that reminds us of the givingness that is at the heart of what Jesus called life more abundant. I've often thought about a cycle of 31 poems, collected into a booklet, and used one a day for 6 months, call it Psalms of the Poets perhaps.
The hunger for awe and the awareness of the vast rock faced mountain that is God's categorical imperative to seek, and climb and risk falling in order to climb; or to live the alternative metaphor, standing in the spray of torrential water hurtling over the cliff, the self-sacrifice and passionate surrender of that
flood of mercy
flung on resistance."
Levertov was such a brilliant expositor of human longing and divine elusiveness, human devotion and divine amplitude, our capacity for finitude and God's infinite mercy.
And so, today begins, with a willingness to lie beneath the tree, stand barefoot at the waterfall, know however fleetingly, the drenching spray of mercy.
The petals of this poppy are gossamer thin, yet the depth of crimson, scarlet and other tones of red give this flower a startling presence, demanding attention. The photo was taken in Aberdeen's Botanic Garden, yesterday around noon. I wasn't looking for a photo, I was walking by myself, praying in a garden about the anguish and blood and tears of people in Gaza. That tragic agony weighs heavily on my heart, because much of my own spirituality and many of the values by which I try to live have long established roots in the soil of Israel's faith. What is happening in Gaza has little connection with the great light bearing statements of that faith about how to live before God.
I remembered Jesus in a Garden, when he sweated anguish like life blood, drenching his brow and stinging his eyes, and I tried to imagine how a mind that could speak of the flowers of the field and the care of God, could survive the pain and cruelty of political and religious zealotry about to unleash power that crushes, dehumanises and demonises its victims. The cross of Jesus Christ is a scandal that saves the world. That brutal celebration of human ingenuity and artistic skill in extracting maximum pain in protracted time, is, nevertheless, despite our worst and best efforts to explain it, the foolishness and wisdom of God.
So I'm not able to understand the flint faced hatred of Hamas and Israel. As a follower of the Crucified Christ I accept that in a broken and fallen world, I am called to take up my cross, daily, and follow. I accept it and find it so hard to do it, but not for want of trying, and not for want of God's grace. My encounter with this flower was as near an epiphany as I tend to have, a moment of revelation, when the vivid hues of red cut through my questions and complaints, interrupted my anger and outrage, rebuked the impotence and lurking despair of thinking I can't make a difference. Or at least not enough of a difference to register in any way that I could consciously own, and then the words of the old hymn forced a rethink:... "and from the ground there blossoms red, life that shall endless be."
No that doesn't remove the obscenity of tank shells hitting a hospital;nor does it excuse the evil zeal that uses unarmed human beings as human shields in the name of God. This fragile, beautiful, so transient flower is a prophetic word of defiance against steel, computerised missiles and flechettes - Google that word - this technology is being used in civilian areas. I find it ironic to the point of logical puzzle, that I a Christian, find in the Cross of Jesus Christ, hope for Hamas and Israel. But I am not within a light year of miles of suggesting that will be any consolation to the people of Gaza this morning. There are times when it is our calling to hope, and to hope on behalf of others. I believe God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross...." I believe in Christ God breaks down dividing walls of hostility. All this I believe. But never for a moment do I accept that such faith on my part can be content with seeing this as reason for the disengagement of personal comfort. The call to hope for others is also the call to share something, however remote the reality, something of the lamentation of people whose suffering is deliberately inflicted by others who mean them harm.
My encounter with a red poppy, opens up thoughts that, with apologies to that old Romantic Wordsworth, do not, indeed do not, lie too deep for tears.
I posted this on facebook this morning. Don't like posting the same stuff on both places, but 1) I feel deeply and strongly on the matter of Israel and Gaza 2) there are different constituencies between this blog and facebook.
The Book of Lamentations is one of the masterpieces of human art. The art of articulating suffering; the art of living without hope but beyond despair; the art of using words to persuade us that for some experiences there are no words; the art of looking on a devastated land, a crushed city and a people broken by a violence disproportionate, ruthless and revelling in its triumph, and doing so through the lenses of tears that will not stop flowing.
The Book of Lamentations is one of the great gifts of Jewish faith to a world that always needs reminding of the sorrow we visit upon one another. It represents the heart cry of a people who want to live. The deep spirituality of such suffering is a call for compassion, the anguished cry of the suffering in the face of the taunts and cheers of the enemy is a sound every human being should recognise and seek to comfort.
When I see the flag of David waving and crowds cheering missiles and shells raining on Gaza, I am reminded of the Book of Lamentations, and a people shattered by the cheering of their enemies. And when Mr Netanyahu tells me the problem is a terrorist Hamas organisation that uses people as a human shield I share his outrage, but not his ruthless intent to destroy the shields, because they are human beings. People compelled to be human shields are by definition powerless, and the slaughter of the powerless is precisely what the Book of Lamentations immortalised in words that come from the heart of a people who know.
No, I have no answers to Hamas' ruthlessness, nor Israel's ruthlessness so I pray as the Prophet did that God will silence the song of the ruthless. Kyrie Eleison
Rockets and missiles. Ground troops and guerilla fighters. Women and children. Dead and wounded. Hatred and revenge. Jew and Muslim. Walls and razor wire. Oppression and freedom. Oppressor and opressed. East and West.
The problem is these are not polar opposites; they are mirror images. They represent vicious circles of violence, grievance, vengeance; of trauma, fear and lost trust; of memory, hatred and outrage; of Gaza, Israel and history; of Jew, Muslim and Christian.
During the renewed conflicts between Israel and Gaza I;ve been reading Yopssi Klein Halevi's book, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden. A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land. This is a deep book, with revolutionary possibilities in the service of peace.
"There is nothing diaphonous or ethereal about the striving toward God. It is all about the striving for an end to the bloodshed in one holy, tortured corner of Earth".
This book is written by a Jewish soldier turned journalist turned spiritual seeker for peace amongst the three monotheistic faiths. This isn't a book about inter-religious dialogue for the sake of it; this is an account of how hope is hard won, tough minded, but in the end adamantine in its persistence, because hope is one of the essential persepctives of human being and humane living.
Here are some sentences from the end of this remarkable eirenicon.
More than ever, the goal of the spiritual life in the Holy Land is to live with an open heart at the centre of unbearable tension. Still, I regularly disappoint myself, unable to exorcise, except for brief interludes, the jinns of fear and rage...
The one enduring transformation that I carry with me from my journey is that I learned to venerate - to love Christianity and Islam. I learned to feel at home in a church, even on Good Friday, and in a Mosque, even in Nuseirat. The cross and the minaret have become for me cherished symbols of God's presence, reminders that he speaks to us in multiple languages - that he speaks to us at all.
Then, he takes his children to the church of the Holy Sepulchre, this Jewish soldier journalist who has spent months learning new language and discourse with those of other opposing faiths, and who has come to see that these faiths are not irredeemably hostile, but are different languages of faith and faithfulness to God,
This Jewish soldier finishes his book with these words, as he stands in the historic centre of Christian faith in the incarnate God in Christ:
I am suddenly aware of the muezzin , summoning me from the next hill. I get on my knees, press my forehead to the floor, immobile with surrender."
Not since reading Kenneth Cragg's The Call of the Minaret have I read a book of such deep understanding which has grown out of humility, courage and hopefulness. Courage to reach out seeking the other without fear, humility to listen to new visions and unlearn old prejudices, and hopefulness as goodwill and humane openness of heart and hand. And at heart a determined peacableness which sees those of other faiths, not as enemies, but friends, not as aliens but as neighbours, not as strangers but as family - "For this reason I kneel before the father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.
Those last two lines, they get me every time. The juxtaposition of eternity and love, not only love as endless, but beginningless; Galilee, a sea which could just as easily become a dangerous cauldron of cross winds and skewing waves; Jesus kneeling before the Father when an eternity of relationship is distilled into the fatigue and emptiness that is the consequence of exposure to the neediness and demands and self-concerned energy of human flesh; that's the reality of the Word became flesh. But it is a reality in which glory kneels in the silent place, and the silent concord of eternal love interprets to Jesus the heart of the Father. Within the tragedy and costliness of human sin and broken love, in that particular place in the created universe, beside the sea of Galilee, once again, through the Word made flesh, God looked on a world, "And God said..."
I love walking by the sea. Partly because the rhythm of the waves eventually persuades the rhythm of my heart, to fall in step. And of course then my own steps slow down and recover a way of walking that isn't the driven energy of that pelagianism that not only makes me want to save myself, but also the world for good measure! At which point I come as close to praying as perhaps I ever do. "The silence of eternity interpreted by love..."
It was Dr Sheila Cassidy who made me start looking for the cross in unlikely places. While working at St Luke's Hospice she started noticing the cruciform image on windows, door panels, furniture joints. These were daily interruptions of her duties, bringing her mind back to the reason she was doing this kind of work, for love of Jesus who died for all humanity, and in whose resurrection is the hope of the world.
Last night walking along Aberdeen beach, a long intentionally solitary walk beside the lapping waves of a receding tide, I stopped at one of the old encrusted wooden barriers. Just about my eye height, under 5 foot, I took this photo. The moment I saw the shape a whole set of connections started to flash alight. These rugged encrusted timbers are there to meet the waves of a sea that can be relentless, ferocious and destructive, as well as calm. This cross shaped barrier remains solidly there, as the tides come and go.
This week I've walked alongside people who are suffering, and whose humanity and hopes are besieged by waves that come rolling in with relentless energy. Alongside a calm sea like this, Jesus walked after a busy and dangerous day when people wanted him to be a king, and didn't realise he already was a king, just not on their terms. And alongside such a sea he walked in early morning after his crucifixion, when he came looking for his friends, and found them becalmed and hungry. Even in my own life just now, this symbol of the love of God beyond telling, ruggedly made flesh in the gift of incarnate deity, tells a Gospel story encrusted with eternity and covered with the marks and realities of history, and reminds me, in all the encrusted realities of my own life, of a hymn about a cross towering o'er the wrecks of time, and another about the cross as refuge tried and sweet, and yet another about the place where sorrow and love flowed mingling down.
It was dusk - and I took the picture with no thought of the camera setting, so this dark, wet, apparently immovable barrier against the dangers of a relentless sea, was for a fraction of a second, illuminated and bathed with light. I took time to pray for those going through their own experiences of what must at times feel like crucifixion....alzheimer's disease, cancer, depression, addiction, betrayal, rejection and that core deep loneliness that now and again we all feel and wonder why God has forsaken us....O cross, that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee....
Our students graduated last week, and I attended my last formal graduation on behalf of SBC. I have loved the way my story has woven together with so many other stories. The meta narrative of Christ and Church is itself textured by the stories of those who hear the call of Christ, who hear and heed, and who follow, even to College!
My debt is unpayable to those who encouraged me to study, learn, think, pray, puzzle, proclaim, invest, commit, in other words give myself and my life to the service of Christ and the Gospel and the Church and the World. To have shared in the aspirations and dreams, struggles and successes, pains and gains of so many students has been privilege, pure and simple. Seeing them graduate each year brings such satisfaction, and a humble acknowledgement of God's grace, as these same students are transformed by the renewing of their minds, and will go on in that same grace to prove the perfect will of God. Or so we pray. And playing some small part in that inner reorientation of thought, passion and will is itself a gift more expensive than any of us could afford, and yet one more graced touch of God.
So here are this year's Graduates
Was going to edit this one, but the two faces at the bottom look so surprised and delighted they add so much to the celebration!!
Oh, and here's Ian, the new Principal, resplendent in St Andrew's Doctoral robes and a bow tie that if it starts revolving fast will propel him upwards :))
Then on Saturday there was the Annual Agricultural Jamboree called the Echt Show. I know - Romeo and Juilet at PACE, prestigous lecture at UWS, Graduations in Coats Memorial - culture and education, but a balanced life needs to get its hands dirty. So, remembering many a visit to the Royal Highland Show at Ingleston, we took in the local display of tractors, cows, sheep, pigs, dogs, baking, falconry, jam making, flower arranging - hey, I know, some of these are only borderline agricultural - anyway, it was a good way to spend a sunny Saturday in rural Aberdeenshire.
My friend is a great fan of Duke Ellington. Naturally, he is an amateur expert on Jazz, and all things Ellington. He first introduced me to the Sacred Concerts
Visiting him now, this good old friend, over the last few years, has increasingly been affected by alzheimer's disease. Pastoral care and visiting are now important occasions of kenosis, of self-forgetful love. The fragility and uncertainty of communication, not knowing whether we are recognised at any level registering within the heart and mind of my friend; then, our friend's overwhelming tiredness of body and mind, and the consequent and apparent vacancy of a face well lined with the wrinkles and muscle movement of tens of thousands of past smiles.
There is conversation all around the day room; some of it is the banter of carer and cared for; some is the talk of those still able to build the scaffolding of meaning, to keep the conduits of communication alive with words and memories and shared experience.
And then, some is the one way conversation of a lover with the beloved, a child with the parent, a friend with a lifelong friend, a husband or wife with the one who has shared decades of a life that had become symbiotic, a two way traffic journey of love, companionship and conscious commitment to see life together. It is this dynamic but complex relationship between human love and dementia that raise deep and searching questions about who we are in relation to those we love, and who they are in relation to us.
Because now for the lover who comes to visit the beloved one, to care and to be with this so long loved person, all this shared life story seems to have become the responsibility of the one; and a life once shared is now constricted after all these years, to singleness of intent, when only one is left to sustain the two way covenant and having to do so alone. Shared imagination and hopefulness are now the responsibility of the one in whom those precious human gifts are still at the service of this uniquely crafted human relationship.
And then there is the remembering of the one and the not remembering of the other. Memory is fading, memory, that precious essential component of personality and character. Memory is failing or failed, and previously vivid pictures are now gray, ambiguous, perhaps even blank for all we know. Memory, where resides the plot and purpose and repository of the unique story of all that has been for these two people, slips into confusion and eventual emptiness. Remembering too becomes the willingly borne burden of the one, in whose memory the other lives, and in whom their identity retains definite and cherished existence. These are burdens hard to bear, and requiring pastoral care that combines the delicacy of a neurosurgeon touching raw nerves, and the faithfulness and courage to be there in the anger, anguish and bereavement of a lover forgotten by the beloved.
Visiting a unit which specialises in the care of people with dementia, therefore, requires a deep kenosis of the spirit. Our competence as communicators, and our training in saying the right thing, are stripped of much of their effectiveness, Our dependence on the usual ways of relating through touch, eye contact, sound of voice and particularly the currency of words, concepts, and ideas, has to be abandoned, because with this person, at this time and in this place, much more is required of us.
Oh yes, words still matter; the speaking voice remains an essential reaching out to the other; and eye contact, touch and gesture retain their value as gifts of the self to the other. But without the comfort of knowing that the beloved other understands, will respond, will reward us with recognition, acknowledgement, and those exchanges that enrich, enhance and confirm our relationship. This is loving with no thought of reward; this is casting the bread of our caring upon the waters with no promise whatsoever that they will return to us.
The great prayer of Ignatius Loyola, wih minimal adjustments, can be a useful prayer which we say before going to visit in a unit dedicated to caring for people with dementia.
Teach us, good Lord, to serve these your children, as they deserve;
To give, and not to count the cost,
to speak and not to heed the empty silences,
to toil at being present, and not to seek for rest,
to labour with tireless heart, and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that to these your children,
we are conduits of your love, and bringers of your Presence.
It's been a rich and fun few days. Prestigious lecture, student graduations, Romeo and Juliet and a day in Aberdeenshire at the Echt Show. In this post, the lecture and the Love Story.
First, the Lecture. Former Lord Advocate and Chamncellor of the University of the West of Scotland, Dame Elish Angioli, delivered the Brough Lecture in the University of the West of Scotland. She spoke with expert familiarity about Women and Justice in Scotland: Three Perspectives. Even those who reckon they know a bit about the Scottish Justice system, and about women in relation to justice, crime and society, were left in no doubt, we don't know enough, think enough and at times seem not to care enough. I'll come back to some of her content in a later post; but there are few better spent hours in my life this past year than the two spent listening and learning to a woman who combines rapier intelligence, authoritiative experience, accumulated wisdom, critical compassion and that important strand of the Scottish Enlightenment, common sense.
Then there was the Love Story on Thursday evening. The picture is from Twitter. The contagious energy, unselfish commitment, up for it gutsiness, line learning discipline, musical know how and uninhibited belief in what they do makes the PACE performance therapeutic enough to want to bottle it and take some away. I loved it, and here's the thing - these young folk made me want to go and get my Arden copy out the back of the bookshelf and read it again through the exegetical lens of young passionate West of Scotland voices.
After the show we went to a local good place for Italian ice cream (chocolate and vanilla) and cappuccino - hey, come on, it was Romeo and Juliet after all. Paying the bill I told our table service person where we'd been, and said the starring couple had died brilliantly. 'Oh that's the best bit", she enthused. She reckoned the better they died the better we cried! Love it, that universalisation of the human tragedy of all consuming love frustrated by adamantine circumstance and human misunderstanding!!
Occasions like these, lecture and love story, help explain why I love the West of Scotland, its University and its folk. And why, living in the North East, I'll still be doon the road now and then to top up my accent!
Tomorrow pics of Graduation and some of the main participants at the Echt (agricultural) Show.
I am sick and tired of this. I did a search for Gaza on my previous blog posts since I started in 2007 and found several posts in which I tried to express outrage, sorrow, hunger for peace, perplexity, compassion. You try to be fair, to see both sides; you know that rockets into Israel will bring missiles and tanks intyo Gaza; you try to understand the mentality of a people whose own natioanl tragedies have been about overwhelming power harnessed to their destruction, about the ghettoisation of the enemy. And against this the recent background of three Israeli teenagers and the burning alive of a Palestinian teenager, allegedly as revenge.
Once again what is happening to the people of Gaza befalls them because of who they are, where they are. There are few effective voices speaking on their behalf to their neighbour who behaves without proportionality, kills civilians with impunity, calls it a tragedy and continues more of the same. Criticism of Israeli military action is muted for fear it will be undetrstood as anti-Jewish; not anti-semitic, the Palestinian people are also Semite people. And that obscene concrete dividing wall of hostility stands as a negation of every Palestinian hope, and as an affirmation of every Israeli citizen's fears.
When I pray Kyrie Eleison, I havn't a clue what mercy would look like between militant haters. When I pray for peace, I realise it presupposes justice, but whose justice, and what has to happen first? And what do I do with my anger, the inward pull towards demonising the powerful and overlooking the power of a militant enemy to provoke disproportionate retaliation, and the death of the innocent in order to further the cause of, well, justice apparently. |The US now wants to broker a cease-fire - why wait till around 100 Palestinian fatalities are recorded, most of them civilians and many children?
I'm sick and tired of this. No that isn't a loss of hope; but it is an honest description of the weariness and wariness I feel when once again the cycle of violence is given righteous status on both sides, and the cost is borne by the innocent.