Lent – 40 day ‘Retreat’ – Day 15

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Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us
   as prey to their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

Psalm 123 (124) Vs. 6,7

One of the great gifts of Lent, as we considered yesterday was that of disconnecting in order to discover our disconnectedness. Jesus goes out into the wilderness on a journey, not so much of self discovery, but of the affirmation of his eternal identity as the Son of God.

Of course part of that journey was necessary, for from all eternity he had not occupied space in the flesh. Was it possible that the Son of God might take on flesh? The tests Jesus faced were ‘of the flesh’ – bread for the hungry; concrete evidence of his Father whom he could not see; and the temptation to lose that which he could not sense in order to gain all that his eye desired. All of these in their different way are very much temptations of desire – and our desires lead us away from our true identity.

Think of the prodigal, blind to who his father was, he sees the allure of the world.

So trained are we in thinking that our ‘selves’ are our minds, we easily fall prey to the temptations of the flesh, for our brains are more than capable of rationalising any action of the body, any act of unfaithfulness, any . . . I could go on. More than that our mental capacity is readily trained in serving the flesh in this way and if we call ourselves Christians, of dressing it up in theological language, taking the name of God in vain.

So ‘Retreat’ should always include elements of disconnecting, in order to unmask these unruly appetites of the flesh. But that use of the word, ‘flesh’ does not designate our bodies, only reveal what happens when we allow our bodies to master us. For our bodies are now, and always will be part of us, and as St Paul reminds us, we eagerly await their redemption. Death is not an escape from the bodily realm. The Risen Christ is flesh and blood – he lays a fire, he eats and invites us to touch his hands and side.

As I said yesterday, there is great gift in disconnecting from artificial light . . . as Christians we should be more wary than most of that which ‘masquerades as light’. On retreat I slept whilst it was dark, and I worked whilst it was yet light. This is a much undervalued way of life in a world where artificial light teaches us that our lives are without bounds. Burnout, stress, working every hour of the day and night is only possible because we have extended our sovereignty, even over the night.

It would be worth considering how different our lives would be did we not have light 24/7 in our homes. Would we be as tired? If previous generations managed to do that which God asked of them in the hours of daylight, who are we working for when we ‘burn the candle at both ends’? Our forebears in faith knew this, even before electricity made our lives so very frenetic

‘It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.’

The Lord gave day and night. they are gifts. The day for work – and then only 6 in 7 – and the night for sleep. The Scriptures call the twelfth hour, 6pm, ‘the last hour of the day’. The Anglican divine William Law says ‘This is a time so proper for devotion that I suppose nothing need be said to recommend it as a season of prayer to all people . . . . As the labor and action of every state of life is generally over at this hour, so this is the proper time for everyone to call to himself to account and review all his behaviour from the first action of the day.’

For closure of the day.

Are we more wise than our forebears who almost throughout history did not work in the dark? Of course we like to think so, yet if our disconnected minds should trick us into thinking this is so, our bodies betray us. Or perhaps we are betraying our bodies, which are now and always will be, part of us?

Lent – 40 day ‘Retreat’ – Day 14

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Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us
   as prey to their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

Psalm 123 (124) Vs. 6,7

A few weeks ago, I made my annual week long retreat. In the title of this series of posts I have put the word ‘Retreat’ in quotation marks as here. To remind us that Lent is not a time for retreating per se, but rather a time for engagement, which is the proper understanding of a Retreat. It is not a time for ‘getting away from it all’ – quite the opposite. Indeed if we retreat well, then we begin to understand that we cannot ‘get away from it all’, but that is another matter.

On my retreat I was Graced with several healing gifts – in particular gifts of disconnection, or better, disconnection from my disconnectedness. The Poustinia which I occupied was ‘Off Grid’, that is there was no electricity – and off the net. Both of these gifts had a profound effect in reconnecting myself – more explicitly to my body, which is and always will be part of me.

Firstly I want to think about the effect of being off-grid. The gift of this for my body was that I observed my day by the light of the day. It was not artificially prolonged. Our bodies, which are and always will be part of us, are tuned not to the fires we have lit for ourselves, rather they are tuned to the rhythm of light and dark which is part of our existence on earth. This is a connection we have lost and in no small part is responsible for our lack of knowledge of who we are, and as always, who we are before God. In other words artificial light it is part of the Illusory experience which has caused us to lose touch with Reality.

During my retreat, day broke at 6 am. It was then that the rhythm of prayer began, prayer and small labours such as tidying my room and preparing food. As night fell, 15 hours later, after a brief time of meditative prayer, I slept.

As has been noted, when we observe proper rhythms, we often wake for a period in the night. This time could profitably be given to prayer until such time as sleep kicked in again. (A mirror of the need to rest in the middle of the day).

I paid attention to my body. And my body thanked me for it. I disconnected and discovered how disconnected I was.

Lent is a time for such disconnection, healing disconnection. Not to reconnect, but to discover the truth of our disconnected existence, to recover who we are as created beings, souls AND bodies, which are and always be part of us. In ‘getting away from it all’, we rediscover our identity.

‘If you are . . . ‘ ‘If you are . . .’ ‘If you are . . .’

Lent – 40 day ‘Retreat’ – Day 13

Whilst we are well into Lent – there are many, if not all of us in the Western Protestant tradition who need to restart Lent. Good intentions have led us where they always do . . .

Right on time, just when we need it, God sends us what we need, which is less of my words and more words from one who sees better than I.

Again, I offer a link to Fr Stephen Freeman’s latest writing. Words which might help us whatever our state, whether it is to continue faithfully in the fast given us, or to step aside from that which we have chosen, or to begin again, or indeed to enter into Lent for the first time

Father Stephen’s words can be found HERE

The Seriousness of Vocation. Sermon for Evensong – Lent 2 – Sunday March 16.

Sermon for Lent 2 – Evening Prayer – Year A – Sunday 16th March 2014

Numbers 21:4-9
Luke 14:27-33

‘The Seriousness of the Christian’s calling’

One of the to me enjoyable facets of life here in New Zealand that I am still getting used to is that to travel any distance you have to fly, and that this is nothing of note. Back in the UK, although I often travelled several hundred miles, trains were the way most folk got about. I quite enjoy flying.

Imagine for a moment though, that the next time you fly up to Wellington or Auckland; prior to the flight the Captain introduces himself with the words, ‘Although I’ve spent many hours on simulators, I’ve never flown one of these for real, so I’m very much looking forward to our flight today, and I hope you share my sense of anticipation! . . .’

I don’t know about you, but I think I would be joining the queue for the exit. Recently we hosted a friend from the UK whose husband has been training as a pilot to fly with British Airways. Airspace in the UK is very crowded and there isn’t room for lots of folks to be up in the air training – so they train here instead where there is still realtively little air traffic. Of course, one might say, simulators being so good, they COULD train on the ground . . . BUT . . . as I know from my own very limited experience as a pilot, there is something about the threat of imminent death should you make a serious error that sharpens your training and makes you a better pilot than someone who has never flown for real. (And therein perhaps lies a serious warning for an entire world increasingly immersed in the Virtual . . . )

Flying aircraft as tragic circumstances this past week only reminds us is a very serious business – lives, many of them are at stake. When I went skydiving, one of the things that helped me to enjoy the experience rather than scream all the way down, was the knowledge that the instructor to whom I was attached had made over 10,000 jumps – I wasn’t jumping with someone who hadn’t done it for real, AND what is more – HIS life was every bit at much at risk as mine – which of course is the same as for pilots – their own lives as well as those of their passengers are in their hands and THAT I suggest is a thoroughly good thing . . .

But this begs for me a troubling question – or rather it causes me to ask troubling questions of the church, especially here in New Zealand and in our Diocese. In the Catholic and Orthodox churches, before anyone is ordained Priest, they must train for many years – in the case of the Catholic church, for seven years. Even back in the Church of England there is a minimum requirement of either two years full time or three years part time study and formation required prior to ordination, and that is on top of evidence of several years of study and formation in courses for the laity of the church. When I arrived on these shores I was and remain seriously troubled by the practise of ordaining people to Holy Orders in the Church of Christ with NO prior training . . .

Now of course for some this may be a matter of little or no concern. The prevailing understanding of priesthood in the church seems to amount to little more than an ability to manage a church, or to be a generally nice person. Why begin my remarks with such illustrations as Pilots or Skydive instructors – there is no comparison! And I agree. However much the spirit of the age might have blinded us to this fact, and this is an age when the truth of the matter has been hidden from us, more than ever,  there is no comparison with pilots and skydivers, the vocation of a Priest in the church is immeasurably more significant, dangerous and responsible. (In a few moments I shall broaden my comments to include the life of the whole church, but please bear with me . . .)

It is 20 years since women were ordained to the Holy Order (a sign of my own immersion in the problem is that I first wrote ‘Office’), the Holy Order of Priest in the Church of England, in Bristol Cathedral. I was privileged to have one of those 12 women as my spiritual director. Christine had the insight that only comes from a priestly life, one dedicated to prayer, devoted to Christ, and more than once she revealed my sin to me, and the deadly peril I was in through my pride or some other aspect of my nature. To use a metaphor from our Old Testament reading, she showed me how I had been bitten by poisonous snakes and needed to look up for healing before I died spiritually.

Of course, as is true of any good mentor, Christine herself had an insightful spiritual director. And I remember, as a not so subtle teaching method her recounting how in a conversation with her spiritual director, having had a torrid time with her flock, she had commented, ‘well at least I’m not responsible for their Salvation’. Quick as a flash her director was back at her – ‘whatever gave you that Idea!! You ARE!’. Like on occasion Christine’s comments to me opened up the ground under my feet, this comment saw her stood over the deepest of chasms

Of course the idea that any of us is in some sense responsible for the Salvation of our brothers and sisters is to those of us who have grown up in a largely Protestant and increasingly secular atmosphere within the church – either a nonsense, or worse an anathema. We are more brazen than Cain – declaring ‘I am not my brother’s keeper’ ‘He is responsible for his own life!’, and we declare this before God. Given that state of affairs it is hardly surprising that we treat preparation for Priestly ministry with such indifference and carelessness.

And we all suffer as a result. The Protestant error is based on a number of wrong assumptions, but like many wrong assumptions, with a tincture of truth. In this respect the truth is a quite proper insistence on ‘The Priesthood of all believers’, but coupled with an emaciated understanding of what a Priest is. So that rather than all being Priests, ministering the Grace of Christ, one to another, confessing and forgiving sins, none are Priests . . . and thus neither are those who are so ordained.
This is the consequence of treating lightly something which is Holy. Another example might be the Rock star who stands on stage and loudly declaims ‘I love you all!’, in an instant revealing himself as one who loves no-one, except himself. I have to admit that in my earlier years I fell into this trap, announcing the priesthood of all believers and at the same time loudly saying that no one was called to be a priest . . . God has a sense of humour and I was the butt of the joke when my own call to ordained ministry came. Admitting to people before whom, indeed whom I’d taught that Holy Orders were invalid that I was called to such Orders . . . humble pie

The Church sets apart Priests, not to flatten or lower the vocation of the laity, but to elevate it. To remind us all of the Seriousness and costliness of our calling as the body of Christ. That God in Christ has chosen to reveal his Light to the World, to Save the world in and through the Church.
So, the Priest is the one who first must count the cost and then lay everything aside to be a disciple of Jesus, even if as often the case this finds him or her at odds with God’s people. Priests must understand within themselves and seek to reveal what it means to Carry the Cross, to ‘give up all their possessions’. It is why as the Church we have demanded so much of those who the church calls to Holy Orders – we don’t want to hear from the flight deck, ‘I’ve never laid my life on the line except in a simulator – hope you enjoy the flight!’. Lives are at stake in the very fullest sense of the word. For we are dealing with The Holy, with Life or its absence, with Death

And so as the role of the Priest is a Representational one, Representing the Life of the Community to the Community of faith – that the role of the people is revealed as of ultimate seriousness, for which we all need to be trained.

Jesus as he speaks with those who seek to follow him, again reminds them of the costliness of Discipleship. It requires Cross bearing, which means laying aside our own priorities for those of the Kingdom of God. Cross bearing is NOT that suffering which is the common lot of human kind, broken relationships, pain and illness and the rest. Along the lines of ‘we all have our crosses to bear’ – no, Cross bearing is a laying aside of our life to seek the Kingdom of God. God becomes the Centre of our lives in the sense that the meaning of our lives is found purely and sufficiently in his service. The Priest is to have no life apart from that of Discipleship. And Jesus makes this plain at the outset – this will cost you Everything you have – take note of that. This Journey of following him has a cost – don’t disregard the cost. Don’t find yourself some way down the track grumbling about the conditions of your life serving God, not your own desires.

But as I said, this IS about all of us. So again in former times, the church required candidates for Baptism to undergo three years catechesis, training, rigourous confession of sins – for the call of Christ would demand everything of you. It was only right to do this. Now it seems that in the church we baptise blithely and then spend years afterwards trying to show folk what they have signed up for and finding few are enthusiatic about the way they are shown. In a sense perhaps the emphasis on Priestly training might be because having failed to call people to count the cost at Baptism, the church decided that it couldn’t make the same mistake twice. ‘None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions’. Now as I said, it seems that here in New Zealand at least we are more than content to continue to make the same errors over priests as well – and thus the whole church suffers . . .

And of course in Lent we remember that Christ himself is tested – the Reality of his calling is tested by being sent into the desert, fasting forty days and nights, that he might be tempted of the devil and the reality of his heart exposed . . . and this forty days and nights mirrors the 40 years of preparation of the children of Israel in the wilderness prior to entering the promised land where they are to be light to the nations. Prior to taking up the LIfe of Christ, there is a counting of the cost

This strange story of poisonous snakes and the Bronze serpent can only be understood in terms of this testing of the vocation of Israel to be a light to the world. Having been adopted as God’s children they were now being trained for that which God called them to, to participate in God’s saving Acts – to be a visible sign of the life of God in the world, to share in God’s work of Salvation, to take the responsibility offered them by God. But they have not counted the cost. All too eager to be out from under the heel of the Egyptians, they pay no heed to what life in God’s service will mean and so they grumble and fiery serpents are sent amongst them. Like careless trainee pilots, they have lost sight of the horizon to which they are heading, they have not taken the call seriously, they do not see that they are engaged in life and death matters and so there are bitter consequences.

This is no story of a moody God who just gets angry and lashes out. No it is the story of God who so loves the world that he sets aside a people to be his vehicle of Salvation, who invests himself in living with them, showing them his Life, training them for the life he is calling them towards in ‘entering the promised land’. A people through whom one will be born who will bear all the sin of the world – a people whose vocation is to herald and reveal Him. A people who need to be trained, prepared, carefully taught all that it means  – all that it will cost. The cost is great for the very life of the world is at stake.

And as it must be where God is, it is a story of Grace. The people recognise that they have failed, sinning against the God who rescued them from cruel slavery in Egypt and so God commands Moses to make the serpent of bronze – which will be for their healing; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

And here to is Grace for us, for when we also take our eyes of our vocation to be God’s people, we too find that their are many poisonous serpents around us, the rapid decline of the church and many other signs of that – where will we look? There is One to whom we can look for our healing – our renewal.  just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

Through the disciplines of Lent – may our senses be reawakened to the seriousness of our calling – our responsibility before God for our brothers and sisters and their spiritual condition. Let us give thanks to God for the training of Lent – may we in and through the Hikoi, our mission partners visit, but above all the simple yet testing disciplines of this season find our focus restored on Jesus Christ. The One in whose life we are all called to participate through the Grace of baptism.

Sermon for Lent 2 – Year A – 16th March 2014 ‘You must be born again’

Sermon for Lent 2 – Year A – Sunday 16th March 2014
Genesis 12:1-4
John 3:1-17

“you must be born again”

The story is told of a preacher called to a new ministry. On his first week his text was ‘You must be born again’. The elders of the church who had appointed him all patted themselves on the back for it was a fine sermon that stirred their hearts. Indeed it was SO good that the following week, they were only Slightly disturbed when he announced his text for the week, John Chapter 3 and verse 7 ‘Do not be astonished that I said to you, you must be born again!’. Again the sermon was excellent and all went home to say what a fine preacher they had appointed, and they looked forward to the following week. On the following week however, their disturbance reached a new height. The pastor walked to the pulpit, and announced his text ‘you must be born again’. Hurriedly after the service, the elders got together, and clled the pastor into the vestry. ‘Pastor. We are Very very glad you have come to us, you are a very fine preacher’ – always beware of flattery . . . ‘but we are concerned that you only seem to be preaching only from one text. Why? And the pastor responded , because ‘You must be born again!’

Last week I spoke about the illusory nature of much of our existence. That we Needed above all to be awakened to the Reality in which we ‘live and move and have our being’. And it might be tempting to say that that means that we need to hear the same sermon series. But our situation is not the same, indeed the preacher was wrong in what he said. He just had a view of Baptism out of line with the teaching of the catholic [sic] church down through the ages. Not that new Birth is not Necessary and Essential (of the Essence / Core of faith).
In the words of Jesus to Nicodemus ‘you must be born from above’. Jesus does not put this as an option or a choice – it is an Imperative. You Must be born again. And the reason for that imperative is made clear in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above’ ‘You cannot enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit’ The new birth is Essential to our Lives as Christians, indeed it Is our life.

Most of us have grown up with an understanding of Christian faith that is part of that widespread Illusion about the nature of the world in which we live. That Christian faith is a set of ideas about the way the world is – one amongst many religious understandings – that the Christian life is ‘the moral life’ – one not dissimilar to that of many good lives. Even that it is a ‘Spiritual’ life, like indeed we might care to imagine everyone can access in some way or other.
But it is not. Christian Faith, Christian Life is the life of Jesus Christ – it is a whole New way of being in the world – a participation in the Life of God in the world, for the sake of the world and to the Glory of God without parallel, anywhere. We cannot say ‘it is like this . . .’ or ‘it is like that . . .’ for it is not like anything we can name, except Jesus Christ. It is a Life given to us – it is the product of a second birth – the sacrament of which is baptism.

This week Bishop Kelvin has begun his Hikoi – once more proclaiming the Good News throughout the Diocese. And the only Good News we have as Christians is the Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. Together with Anglicans across the Diocese we are invited to participate in this proclamation of Jesus Christ as we renew our Baptism vows.

For our Baptism is God’s chosen way of New birth – of bringing us into the life of Jesus Christ – but for so many and to a certain extent for us all, either the Devil has snatched away the seed of the Word of Life, or persecution has meant that we’ve given up on it, or, and this is true of us all to a greater or lesser extent, the thorns and weeds of life in the world with its myriad distractions, its hall of enticing mirrors, or its pain and sorrow – these have robbed us of the Joy of life in Jesus Christ – of our New Life. Our problem is not that we have not been born again, our problem is that we have forgotten. We have forgotten who we are – we have forgotten that we have been born again into a living hope and we have become comfortable with an illusion – about faith and our Life before God. We have become comfortable with a faith that is no faith at all.

Of course to speak of Baptism in this way is troublesome for us Modern people. For so many in the modern church ‘being born again’ is something we choose along with Baptism. Nicodemus question ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old?’ echoes this. When we were born did we think ‘How can I be born?’ Why then do we think we can ask ‘How do I go about being born again??’. It is nonsense, not that the modern church is not replete with those who will tell you HOW to be born!!!! . . . For We moderns are trained to be in charge of our own lives. The thought that our Baptism, the second birth was something we had no say in is offensive to us. And the more control we vainly imagine we have over our lives, through wealth or education or family circumstance – the more we chafe against the idea that our re-birth – our Baptism was ANYTHING except Our choice. We thus deny who we are, Living not as children of light, but as children of this present evil age.
As one writer so clearly puts it ‘Much of the rhetoric of [this modern age] is aimed towards those with wealth and power. It privileges their stories and mocks the weakness of those without power . . .’ And anyone who was baptised as an infant, with no say, powerless and weak will know the power of the ‘mockery’ dressed up as ‘Christian Concern for Truth’ that suggests that lack of choice made your baptism second class. How often have we heard the declaration – ‘I was truly present at my baptism. I chose that path’ – a rebuke (occasionally unintended) to the weak who were baptised as infants.
To say ‘the point is not whether you have chosen Christ, but whether He has chosen you’ – frankly that is too much for us moderns to swallow. ‘This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?’ The offense of the gospel is that it is Not about you – it is totally and utterly about the Glory of God. And many turn back from life for that reason and construct something more in keeping with their own understanding – the Protestant Error. {It is worth remembering that the rise of Protestantism coincided with the birth of Individualism. Indeed Scholars of secularism, Individualism’s offspring find it all but impossible to discern which caused the other.

But Baptism is not even an individual matter. For God in Christ does not call individuals, he calls a people. This is why we renew our vows together. We might hear the call of Abram as a call to an individual but it is not – for Israel is in Abram. In calling Abram to Life, God calls Israel. ‘Abram and his seed for ever’ as we shall sing in the Magnificat tonight. Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation . . . So Abram went, as the Lord had told him. So Abram went . . . So in the fulness of time, Obedient Israel – Jesus the Christ was sent into the World to be Life for the World – to be the Life of a People – to be not my life or your life, but to be Our life
We renew our vows together to remind ourselves of this – to remind ourselves that Christ is our Life – that it is nothing to do with us – that we are being led into something which has no parallel. That by God’s Grace – free and unmerited in All regards, lest we should boast – We have been born from above.

Bishop Kelvin’s question ‘how do you convert a diocese’, has This merit – that Christian Life is the life that we share. That we need together to wake from the illusions which constrain and seek to limit our common Life. May we together wake up to who we are; by Grace alone, those born from above. Not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but [born] of God.

Lent – 40 day ‘Retreat’ – Day 11

To return briefly to fasting.

It is perhaps no surprise that in the age of the disembodied faith [‘faith’ as a set of beliefs – discipleship as bible classes or devotional reading (usually solitary)] – this discipline which has been a central discipline of the faithful for most of history, falls into disuse.

It often seems as if modern Christians have descended into a form of gnostic docetism. That is faith which denies the body and its part in our salvation.

(Indeed, you may like to pause here to ask yourself the question ‘What is the role of my body in the salvation of my soul?’ . . . We live in a generation which largely has no comprehension about the significance of the body. Perhaps that is why the church is so consumed over issues of sex?)

We have lost sight of the person As body – we are trained in seeing the body only as a container, which at best we have to look after for the pitiful reason ‘that we might live longer’.

Fasting is the most powerful way of coming to understand that apart from your body you will not be saved. It is the key discipline for waking up to the SPIRITUAL mess we are in. Fasting is the fastest route to understanding that things are not as we have come to believe. It strips our illusions away. We no longer live a mental fantasy. It is the way to awakening to Truth.

Lent – 40 day ‘Retreat’ – Day 10

As I have remarked elsewhere, Lent is declining in significance in much of the Church. In large part this is down to its relation to Easter.

If we compare Lent with the other season of preparation, Advent, this becomes clear. Blogs are full of ‘getting ready for Christmas’ because ‘Christmas’ is so enticing, it occupies a vast space in our emotional psyche. What is more, for those of us in post-Christendom cultures, Christmas holds the attention of the vast majority of those amongst whom we live – and for similar reasons although we might loudly demur . . .

Whereas Lent is preparation for Easter, The explicit zenith of the Christian year. Christians are far quieter about Lent than Advent. Truly this is yet one marker of the decline of Faith amongst ‘the faithful’

Of course Lent also goes against the zeitgeist, for it calls us to bodily restraint, to fasting. [I will not pursue this in depth, but the constant warnings in contemporary writing about fasting, about the need to check first with your doctor, about the many ‘alternatives’ to fasting from food, are in and of themselves troubling markers of the decline of Faith]
Fasting is a discipline of the body, as is mutual confession . . .

Fasting is a reminder to us that we Are bodies!! That our Existence is bodily. And mutual confession, about which I’ve already written much is bodily. It involves our whole being. We do it in the presence of others whom we see hear and smell, whose own bodies take up space in more or less close proximity. We are Aware of others in ways that before the Last Day we cannot be aware of God.
Mutual confession like fasting is a Lenten discipline. It reminds us of who we are, before one another and thus before God.

Lent – 40 day ‘Retreat’ – Day 9

‘My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.’ Galatians 6:1,2

 

Some of the most tragic words I ever hear are the words of an elderly person ‘I do not want to be a burden’ [I hear many that are tragic and I miss the tragedy of them, in all likelihood most of our words are tragic]

This is a denial of our dignity as persons, and that it comes so readily not only to the lips of the elderly is a sign that we have chosen Cain’s lie. ‘We are individuals! Are we our brothers’ keeper??!!’ I am not responsible for you, neither are you for me.

To be ‘an individual’ – refusing to be a burden is to live a double lie. In truth we cannot help but be a burden – our lives are all interconnected however much the prince of this present age tells us otherwise. Every word, every action of our lives impinges on others, those we see and those we will never know. We are burdensome – and if we cannot see it in those around us, surely we can see it in the Creation of which we are an inextricable part. ‘All Creation groans’ . . .

And secondly we lie for the word of LIFE is that in burden bearing we are fulfilling the law of Christ. He who bore our burdens gladly commands us so to do. It is the way of discipleship.

Of course we shy from ‘being a burden’ for we understand ‘burden’ in negative terms – again our vision is distorted by the evil one. We do not hear the words of the Life Giving One – ‘my yoke is easy, my burden is light’. Burden bearing is understood to be grievous to us, and thus being a burden is transformed from part of God’s intention for us, to a form of sin.

At its darkest this is expressed through our rush to kill all those who are burdensome to us. Starting with the unborn, moving on to those who are terribly ill, then the elderly, ‘next they came for’ . . . we have been here before . . . Evil teaches us we are individuals, denies that our Life is with the other.

 

For now briefly I will pursue this alien thought that burden bearing Is a Joy.

A couple of days ago I spoke about a community of healing, where the burden of lives were gladly shared one with another. [HERE]

I make two comments in this regard. Firstly, in the eyes of the world these people were nothing – the bottom of the pile, the despised, the ‘tax collectors and prostitutes’ of our day. For many it was their sense that there was no value to their lives that had led them into drug addiction. Now they found themselves amongst a group of people who loved them, not because of any status or what they could do for one another. They saw that they were under the same condemnation and received mercy, one from another.

As I said, there were some for whom the time in community did not work. Those for whom the light of freedom was too bright – those imprisoned and institutionalised in one way or another. Those behind black iron bars, and those in gilded cages, who could not believe that Life was to be found amongst the poor and destitute, amongst the tax collectors and Prostitutes, who denied that they had been humbled and that the door of Life stood open.

Secondly, they were joyful for knowing the wonder of being relieved of their burdens – the healing power of Grace and forgiveness they were quick to extend the hand of Grace to those amongst whom they found themselves.

They saw themselves in the other – they recognised their common condition – they gladly threw away pride. Burdens gladly born in a community of healing, a community of LIFE.