Over this weekend I'm trying to dream up a sermon with the title "Mother tongue - foreign land". The excuse for these musings is that the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle invites the world to pray for the countries of Britain and Ireland from tomorrow.
Someone else was originally due to lead worship in the ecumenical centre next week but that fell through, so I found myself with the task of reflecting on my home country, a place I haven't lived in for a nearly a generation. I'll see how it comes along. One of the problems with it is that I recently received or perceived the beginnng to a sermon fully formed, I was really excited by it at the time. Now though I'm having to let go of that idea in order to try to say something perhaps less beautifully perfect but more real. No idea how it will turn out. I want to try and play with the idea of how my home country is totally familiar and yet very much a foreign land to me and use that as a springboard to think more about changing faith, church and ecumenical landscapes ... all set somehow between Babel and Pentecost, coping with life's mess and structure.
Yesterday at lunchtime a few of us reheared the hymns I've chosen - all rather unknown and a little difficult. It made me smile but also surprised me that the tunes and words evoked hobbits and elves for one of my colleagues! Anyway although we shall not have any Scottish or Welsh music, we will have a poem by a Welsh poet (Rowan Williams) and morning prayers throughout the week will be led by a colleague from Scotland and based on the Iona Community's morning prayers. You can find the order of service here.
Saturday, 30 January 2010
Over this weekend I'm trying to dream up a sermon with the title "Mother tongue - foreign land". The excuse for these musings is that the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle invites the world to pray for the countries of Britain and Ireland from tomorrow.
At the beginning of January we decided to really try to no longer take the car to work. Better for us - even if it is only a shortish walk to the bus stop it is still more than the 10 paces to the car - better for the environment. Since timetable changes in December there are now far more F buses and one in two of them goes up to Gex. The real change is the new bus, the Y which comes in to Geneva from Thoiry in France and then goes past the airport and out to Ferney. We can get to the airport and also on to other parts of the Genevan tram and public transport system in more varied ways. It is really changing things. The bad weather conditions didn't help the start of the new timetable and the Y is still having problems sticking to its timetable, it is still a brilliant improvement. A new P bus should also be starting soon, linking people in Prévessin up to the trams in Meyrin.
As a result we have not used the car at all since January 2. So now the big question, should we buy a new car (our old VW Golf has just come of age this month and is 18 years old) or should we try to organise our lives differently and just hire a car when we need one? Hmmm ... Can't change the world unless we try to change ourselves.
The bad weather also led to all kinds of buses from Lausanne and elsewhere being used on the Genevan TPG. Dr B is more than a bit of a transport spotter and gets quite excited about the different kinds of buses available. I just get cross that the order for the new F buses was delayed by our anti public transport regional council so we have rather a hotchpoth of buses at the moment, many of which seem to come from Paris. The local transport revolution in the Pays de Gex still doesn't seem to have tackled the major reason for delays though which would be to get buses which have doors that open and close properly!
You can keep up to date with all kinds of information you never knew you didn't want to know about public transport in Geneva on the Site non officiel des TPG.
This is all part of cross border cooperation within something called the PACA (périmètre d'aménagement coordonné d'agglomération!!) which is holding a public meeting on February 18 to look at studies about how things are likely to evolve in some of the Pays de Gex and the neighbouring municipalities in Switzerland. There are similar studies underway for the Geneva and neighbouring France area. Find out more here.
Thursday, 28 January 2010
Thanks to Stephen Timmis for reposting large chunks of my short meditation on the parable of the lost coin and Haiti to his church newsletter. I hadn't intended there to be a sermon that day and then one suddenly came to me.
Meanwhile Paul Fromont over on the splendid Prodigal Kiwis has also taken up one of my recent posts and talked more about why he is now longer part of the church yet firmly rooted in the Christian tradition.
In my case, while reading widely across religious and denominational traditions, I remain firmly rooted in the Christian tradition but have had to leave church-belonging in order to do that. What do I miss about not going to church? Eucharist, and an experience of community (centered on following Jesus of Nazareth). But, ironically, the more and further afield I explore, the harder it is to return to the kinds of churches I’ve left. The ways I want to express my faith; my understanding of church and mission etc, spiritual formation, and the diverse sources I draw from (e.g. both Protestant and Catholic) have all grown and changed and as I didn’t “fit” before I left the last church I was at, I definitely won’t fit now.In the end I suppose clergy like myself are part of the problem in terms of getting the church to change, too involved in maintenance not mission. We become clerics in part at least because the order or disorder of the church appeals to us and we can find a place for ourselves there somehow - this is not to downplay vocation or the word of God, it's just to say that clergy have strong personal reasons to being attracted to the profession. Perhaps the truth for me is that I need structured religion in order to practise my faith. I do pray on my own but I find it much easier to pray with others. I prefer to try and build projects with others - perhaps the church seems to offer some kind of ready-made community with which to start. Of course I've also only really ministered in minority or dissenting churches where in many cases being missional was about imparting the gospel good news to those who felt that they were already "insiders" in some ways. (So of course not really misisonal at all!)
More and more though I recognise that church creates huge feelings of ambiguity in many believers. Are those of us who still bother with it at all the biggest hypocrites? I hope that's not where I am but I try to face myself as honestly as possible with the question about whether there is any integrity in my ora et labora, in my preaching, teaching, praying and work. Meanwhile I think that Paul is challenging an insider like me to realise that because I feel comfortable with the church it may mean that others continually feel they are outsiders. Inclusive church is easy to talk about but not easy to actually bring about unless you're willing to change. Am I?
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
For those of you not following Stephen's progress on facebook this is just a note to say he is now home and already finding it a bit boring here compared to in hospital, even if there is rather more reading matter here. For the next few weeks the house will have to be his hospital.
Thank you all for your messages and support, your prayers and thoughts. Let's hope he will be well. Amazingly it does look as if that is possible. To say that we are thankful doesn't even begin to describe our emotions.
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
This evening after hospital visiting - Dr B will probably be out tomorrow but is still waiting for a final ultrasound test - I went out for a delicious supper with friends at the Lyrique in Geneva.
People are being so kind and supportive at the moment and it's a little difficult to know how to respond. Everyone wants to offer help and I am enormously grateful - it's just that there really isn't much to do. Perhaps once Stephen is home it will be clearer what is needed. Even then though I suspect that we will not need masses of practical support, however the gentle support of kindly words, prayers and just joining us for a cup of tea and some conversation will continue to be much appreciated.
It has been heart-warming and sometimes a little overwhelming to receive so many offers of help and messages of support. This evening I came home to a message from a former parishioner, who has herself had major surgery for a brain tumour and is a nurse ... emails and phone messages from all over and the simple foundational knowledge that people are praying for us. One African friend said "we are keeping God awake", I liked that!
As I reflect on how I too often say to others - let me know if there's anything I can do - I've been thinking of some spiritual exercises that use imagination to help achieve a new way of discerning life, situations and events, by encouraging the ability to simply be still, look and not try to do anything at all. This evening I recognise how little I myself truly develop this capacity to simply "be" with the ambiguity of life, its pains, shocks and joys. I am so truly grateful that I am able to visit the man I love in hospital, yet I hardly dare to give thanks - there is a long time of healing and change ahead. Life is precious and fragile and can only ever be lived one day at a time. For all of us that is all we will be able to do.
And I suppose my final two words for this post are "phew" - because even now I am not quite sure what it is I have gone through this past week; and "thank you" - to so many friends and family, and God and life itself. It will go on being good and rich and beautiful - and it is a blessing to be allowed to come through such a time not grieving but grateful.
“Value the work of others, the dignity of your own work is not diminished by this.”It's been a while since I quoted anything from an all staff meeting but our new general secretary offered us this quote on Monday. It moved me quite deeply, because I know that it is intended for me just as much as it is intended for others. Relationships in the workplace are of such key importance, yet they can never always be easy.
I also liked the story that this phrase had been found by him and his cousins in one of his aunt's cookbooks when they were sorting through her things after her death.
In many ways this short sentence almost represents a spiritual exercise - what is it that I can value in work done by others, even when relationships are strained? It really does almost sound like something my spiritual director might ask me do ...
Quite a challenge in the workplace.
Monday, 25 January 2010
At this morning's service in the chapel we closed the week of prayer for Christian unity with a reflection and celebration on hospitality. This was also a way to mark the beginning of the Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe year of the churches in solidarity with migrants.
Roswitha Golder, a minister of the Protestant Church in Geneva who worked for over 12 years with the Latin American Methodist community in the city, preached and interpreted the testimony of a member of her community. We sang and prayed and reflected on the meaning of hospitality. Ortensia, from Bolivia, spoke about how she was grateful for the opportunity to become a migrant worker as it meant she had been able to pay for the higher education of her children - her son had now qualified as an engineer. It was a moving tesitmony as she talked about how her own qualifications as a medical secretary were not transferable to Switzerland but that she was nevertheless grateful for the opportunities to provide for her family that working in Geneva provided.
Later when he was opening the exhibition made by the different migrant churches congregations, our new general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit spoke about how stories of migration spoke to almost all of us present. In Geneva in particular, many of us are migrants, but some of are much more privileged migrants than others. Issues of justice and migration have to be taken up by teh churches. Barbara Robra, who worked with the different churches from the "Witnessing together" network on the artistic project behind the exhibtion, spoke of the vibrancy and life in the congregations and the creativity that shone through, both in the panels that had been made but also in the quilting projects that had been part of the exhibition.
Thinking back to Ortensia's testimony I began to think about what kind of migrant I am. It is so easy for workers in international organisations to not think about themselves as migrant workers, to not recognise the privilege we have to be where we are, doing what we do. Do I think I am entitled to everything that comes my way because I'm an international worker? Am I a grateful migrant worker, do I give thanks to God like Ortensia was able to do so movingly this morning? Probably not in quite the same sort of way ... I speak about my faith and life in different ways. Yet the simpliciity of her gratitude spoke volumes to me of how important giving thanks is. It also brought some of my cynicism into sharp relief and called me to conversion: "Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God".
Am I really able to be a hospitable privileged migrant worker, or do I just pray but not practise what I preach?
Today is the final day in the octave of the week of prayer for Christian Unity. This morning the ecumenical centre will host a service led by people from Geneva's migrant churches and the "witnessing together" network. An exhibition prepared by each of the different congregations in the network will be on display in the entrance lobby at the Ecumenical Centre this week.
Meanwhile we are praying this week for countries in Scandinavia through the ecumenical prayer cycle. Countries thought of as rich and stable ... then you remember the Icelandic banking crisis and you know there is much to learn.
Later this week the World Economic Forum begins here in Switzerland, in Davos. The new WCC general secretary, who is from Norway, will attend part of it.
The week of prayer for Christian unity ends with much pointing us to reflect deeply on the spirit of unity needed in our solidarity, aid efforts, development work and particularly in terms of economic justice. Unity is not only about different families of Christianity learning to respect and understand each other, it is also about the whole of humanity working for the good of all.
We share a common earth.
We share the common joy of living,
of the grieving and of the pain.
We share the wonder of the sowing
and the harvest of our common soil.
We share the common bread in our homes.
We share the feast of the wine.
We share our common faith in Christ, our Saviour.
But we still cannot share the common table in our churches.
Why, God, why?
God of unity, let the table of reconciliation
become the true table of unity for the sake of your kingdom.
(c) Per Harling
Sunday, 24 January 2010
The name on a bottle of wine caught my eye this week, the domaine is called "La Sauveuse". I'm sure the organic wine is excellent but I haven't tasted it.
It was the word "sauveuse" which made me think. Sauveur is the French for saviour, sauveuse is also the French for saviour but the first saviour is masculine and the second feminine ... so this made me wonder why in English we don't have saviouress when we do have goddess. Just a passing pointless linguistic thought, which also shows that I need to get a French etymological dictionary.
Dr B needs bananas to get his potassium levels up so I called in on the supermarket, on my way back from the hospital. I didn't expect it to be a place where I witnessed resurrection.
At first I hardly recognised the man in front of me at the checkout but I noticed that his eyes were not bloodshot and his hands clean.Then I looked at what he was buying and compared it with what he had been buying 7 and 8 years ago. In those days he was grief-stricken, his beautiful brilliant partner died in an instant from a brain hemorrhage. For the funeral he had drunk heavily, her high-class parents from the other side of the world had found it hard to say much to him. They blamed him for being alive when she was dead, but politeness forbade them from ever having to do something so common as actually say that. They were tearlessly grief stricken.
His shopping in those months and years afterwards was always made up of baguette and large quantities of alcohol, and only that. I would see him regularly at the supermarket and try to offer to listen. Once even drinking a beer in the local bar with him, he more or less ran away. The pain too great. The drinking and drugs had begun before his lover the beautiful physicist had died. I remember her name and the Bible text I preached on and the sad tension of the funeral.
I had not seen him for a long time and certainly did not expect to witness the resurrection so clearly in the contents of his shopping, good food for two adults and a baby, no alcohol. He kept the queue waiting because he'd forgotten to weigh the broccoli. Instead of being irritated I just smiled and as he left wished him "bon weekend". He recognised my voice, turned round, saw he did know me, smiled and simply said "je vais bien" - I'm well - and went on his way.
All this week Christians in many parts of the world have been reflecting on the Emmaus story for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and in particular on the call "you are witnesses of these things". The Emmaus story recalls how it was in the breaking of the bread that the disicples witessed the resurrection and the scales fell from their eyes. On my Saturday night shop it was in the weighing of the broccoli that I witnessed resurrection.
Thursday, 21 January 2010
Dr B was taken to hospital last night. In fact he ended up being taken to two hospitals. First by our local pompiers to St Julien en Genevois in France, that time I got to sit with him in the ambulance. Then, about an hour after a very frightening incident of his heart stopping to work, he was driven in another ambulance to the Genevan cantonal hospital and I managed to go after him in a taxi.
At about 4am I was allowed to go and speak to him. He looked alot better by then and was rather chattier than might be expected given the time of the night. In classic Dr B mode he said the one thing I could do for him was to sort out the stuff relating to the forthcoming German version of his Phd! So romantic! The rest of our conversation seemed to resemble a rather bad American movie of the kind I despise most, with us looking into each others eyes and saying I love you
The Swiss doctors think he has viral pericarditus (inflamation of the sack that contains the heart), the French doctors think there might be something more. He's bleeding, he's tired but he is alive and for that the tears falling onto my keyboard give thanks.
At Karin's ordination, and also 10 days ago when our new general secretary began his time in office by preaching, we heard these wonderful words from the book of the prophet Isaiah:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you ...
This evening before I go to bed I think about how precious the one I love is to me. I think of the tens of thousands in Haiti who are not as lucky as I am to get their loved ones to good health care easily. Not because God cares less for them than for Dr B but because human beings across the world have still not caught up with God's standards of justice for all not just for the privileged. We have not been faithful enough to the practicalities of the idea that each of is is precious for God the creator.
Stephen I pray that you will get well. People of Haiti I pray for justice, liberation and tangible hope for you all. We are all precious in teh sight of a loving God.
In the meantime I give heartfelt thanks that one of the tags I shall file this under will be "life".
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
There were times when I was in pastoral ministry when I felt that I only really prayed when I prayed aloud to lead others in prayer. It was as if prayer only held that deeper feeling for me when leading worship. I used to worry about that, rightly so too I think. It is easy for pastors to get so used to leading worship that they never allow themselves time to receive, to pray in an ordinary way.
Today I have been praying in public rather alot - two big services in one late afternoon and evening. Our friend Karin Achtelstetter was ordained to the Word and Sacrament of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bavaria and it was a real privilege to lead the service with her bishop Ark Nitsche. Sometimes worship just works and this did, in a great mix of French, German and English with some touches of Portuguese and totally amazing music led by Terry Macarthur.
Then I went on to lead the local francophone Week of Prayer for Christian Unity combined service, which also featured stunning music, a good sermon by Christine Housel from WSCF and a liturgy that simply seemed to flow. It is a particular blessing when worship does the job of grounding heaven on earth and lifting earth more heavenwards in gentle, non-glitzy, real sorts of ways.
I was physically exhausted and so grateful a friend drove me home afterwards, but I didn't feel all prayed out, I sort of felt all prayed up: filled with something unnamed and beautiful - the Spirit perhaps ...
Given how the night turned out this was just as well ...
Tuesday, 19 January 2010
I came home late to find that one of the copies of Rowan Williams Headwaters had been delivered. It's a wonderfully exciting book, as poetry so often is - calming and speaking to the mind and spirit in new and unexpected ways. Somehow it is simply "pleasing" and yet much more than that too - perhaps exhilarating is more the word.
As this year's week of prayer for Chrisitian Unity focuses on the Emmaus story I was very moved to read the Archbishop of Canterbury's poem inspired by that story:
"we cannot learn
the rhythm we are asked to walk,
and what we hear is not each other.
Between us is filled up, the silence
is filled up, "
The final line particularly moved me for no reason I can explain:
"and our released voices shine with water."
You can find Canon John Gibaut's sermon for the week of prayer for Christian Unity here.
Here's the joke with which it starts:
One Sunday morning, a mother began to waken her son. “George, it’s time to wake up”, she said. George replied, “I don’t want to get up. I’m tired!” “But Georgie, you have to get up; it’s Sunday, and we don’t want to be late for Church.” He replied: “I don’t want to go to Church!” “Oh George, it’s Sunday, and you have to go to Church.” “I don’t want to go.” “But why not?” she asked. “Because,” he replied, “I hate it.” “You hate it? But why?” “Because it’s stupid: the sermons are boring, the music is terrible, the people are dumb, and the pastors hate me.” “Oh Georgie, it’s not that bad. Now please, get up, or we will late for Church.” “I’m not going”, he replied. “But Georgie, you must.” “Give me one good reason why I should go.” His mother replied, “Well, George, first of all, you’re the bishop.”
Publié par Jane à l'adresse 22:28
The churches in Scotland have prepared the material for this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
In Ferney the Roman Catholic Bishop Monseigneur Bagnard will preach at the Protestant Temple on Sunday at 17.00. In Geneva the local council of churches is organizing a midweek prayer service on Wednesday at Emmanuel Church. All week members of the spirituality and faith and order teams within the WCC are leading our morning prayers.
I've been doing alot of thinking about unity, about ecumenism, about diversity, plurality, oneness and much more recently. But this week is - as my colleague John Gibaut so eloquently put it in a sermon - the week to pray for unity, not to write studies about it but to trust to one's own intuition and God's grace and pray "that they may all be one".
Monday, 18 January 2010
John's own intuition also pointed us to how intuition and blocked intuition works in the wonderful chapter 24 of Luke's gospel, the story of Emmaus. It is only as the bread is broken that the scales fall from the eyes of the disciples, as they begin to see who it was with them on the road to Emmaus and remember how their hearts had been warm and alive as he spoke to them, so intuition grants them the insight that this is indeed their risen Lord and as that deep understanding comes he is no longer to be physically seen.
Here are a couple of extracts from the sermon which I will post in full once he's written in the joke - or link to on the WCC site if it gets posted there:
These “epiphany” moments or flashes of intuition characterise so much of the encounters between God and humanity in the Bible. The recognition of God’s self-revelation is so often the experience of deep intuition.
Like laughter, the news of the resurrection is infectious, and spreads, and is shared as the Risen Christ continues to be there where two or three are gathered in his name however unrecognisable, and we caught off guard by the unexpected, and know intuitively that the Lord is risen indeed!
Sunday, 17 January 2010
This morning I listened to (and attempted to interpret into English) a sermon on the miracle of Christ turning water into wine at Cana. The preacher concentrated on the symbolism of joy that the wine in the text represents - I have to admit that although he spoke in glorious rhetorical and rather abstract French I was not entirely convinced by the content of much of what he was saying. However the message about joy being an encouragement in suffering did give me pause for thought.
Christians are often seen as killjoys, judgemental types going around telling people off. Yet the gospels offer us a picture of Jesus who both spoke words of judgement and also spent time feasting. Not feasting in the lap of luxury but celebrating joyful abundance at ordinary religious and family parties. The water turned into wine at the wedding feast is a symbol of the abundance of the kingdom, sign also of the profound transformation which that kingdom brings, as well as of a deep and warming encouragement offered freely to all at the feast.
Thinking about joy made me realise once more that it is a more radiant and inner emotion than happiness, pleasure or laughter. It is a gift of the Spirit and we are blessed in those few moments in life when we glimpse it.
Les hommes ont peur des femmes. C'est une peur qui leur vient d'aussi loin que leur vie. C'est une peur du premier jour qui n'est pas seulement peur du corps, du visage et du coeur de la femme, qui est aussi bien peur de la vie et peur de Dieu.
Il est toujours possible pour un homme de rejoindre le camp des femmes, le rire de Dieu.
From Le Très-Bas by Christian Bobin pp 95 and 97.
Sometimes it is not so bad to get older and to begin at last to know oneself a bit. Today I have had some time to catch up on a bit of reading, thinking and pottering around. It has been a very busy and emotional week in many and various ways and it has been good to have some normal time, sleeping in after a party for a friend, going to the market, shopping and drinking tea. Time to let go of some strains and stresses and live with some of the happiness and hope the week has brought - as well as the desperate tragedy unfolding in Haiti. No words really suffice for that, even though I tried.
Reading Ben Myers splendid Faith and Theology I realised that I shall never write a thological monograph (or even an article) but that I get enormous pleasure and inspiration from reading what others write and from encouraging them to write (I'm having some fun getting a group of young theologians to write about ecumenism at the moment - well actually getting them to deliver is really the issue currently!) It's good to encourage others to unlock their creativity. It was Ben's post about the spirituality of theology that triggered this realisation in me. Mine is a bits and pieces theology. The theology of the practioner, communicator, translator, liturgist and preacher not really of the lecturer or writer.
It has been of more theological importance this week to write "Pray for Haiti" on large strips of paper than to write a treatise on the future of ecumenism. Yet oddly this week of deeply practical editing, translating and liturgical work has also been one of totally gratuitous inspiration. Pure grace. Suddenly, while I was doing something else, a sermon called "mother tongue - foreign land" came into my mind and strangely it seems to be a bit about the future of ecumenism. As I now start to write it of course it doesn't seem to be quite so beautiful and luminous as it was during those first moments of perceiving how it could go, but it still excites me. This kind of inspiration hasn't really happened to me before - not quite so obviously anyway. No doubt by the time it is finished the sermon will even have a completely different title, but it will still have its origin in the moment in fron of my computer when I was checking the VAT!
That links to my final bit of inspiration for this evening. The role of language and mother tongue in inspiration. The sermon came to me in English and is about a far away land called home. When you spend your days playing and struggling with language it's interesting to see which langauge the Holy Spirit is speaking in today. I often say I have a mother tongue (English), a father tongue (German - my 3rd language) and a foreign language (French) which is my working language and my love. Twelve months ago I realised very painfully that I cannot bear to leave a context where I can speak French most of the time. So why if I dream in French does inspiration come this time in English?
Anyway, a bits and pieces theology is where I am and will remain I dare say. Bringing together prayers and Bible translation, song and academic reflection, inspiration and hard labour, thanksgiving and lamentation, spirituality and action. It's a fine place to be I just won't be writing any ground-breaking theology ... however I do still harbour some delusions about maybe writing a bit of detective fiction. We'll see how much older I have to get before I give up on that illusion as well!
Saturday, 16 January 2010
So here is the wonderful labyrinth Mark Taylor and the stewards built during central committee - can you ee it in the snow? I wish I had had time to walk round it once and then photo it again - but it just wouldn't stop snowing. By Monday it will all be melted I suppose.
Friday, 15 January 2010
WCC, LWF, ACT and YWCA staff gathered to pray. People from Haiti living in Geneva joined us, many of them still waiting for news of their own loved ones, some already having received the worst news of all. The situation on the ground in Haiti for the agencies was outlined by colleagues from ACT before we began our prayers.
A powerful and moving time linking our work with the reason we undertake it. Diakonia - service bears witness to Christ and the God of all compassion.
As we lit candles and even beforehand, tears fell, names were read out ... we sang and we kept silence, and we prayed ...
You can find our prayers here. I've posted the full text of my sermon below rather than to the docs section.
Sermon on Luke 15.8-9 - following the earthquake in Haiti
Preached in the Ecumenical Centre Geneva, Friday January 15th 2010 at Midday.
Understanding disaster is impossible
God may just about manage such understanding but for we human beings even attempting to understand leads us to be caught in a strange place between rage, distress and grief, a place where there are few words, a lot of doubt and an emptiness of feeling, a lostness.
There is no easy way through these powerful feelings.
As we face the disaster of the earthquake in Haiti, as we ask "why oh Lord?" our lamentations and questions have as much to do with the pre-existing abject poverty of so many of the people of Haiti as they have to do with the reasons for natural disaster. Haiti was in need of an earthquake of justice and mercy. Not this. The poorest are always disproportionately affected by natural disasters. So much precious, beautiful human life and intelligence lost in the dust and rubble - so much risk of disease as the living receive basic treatment outdoors next to the dead. So much to do … so much chaos…
And just how long do we continue to hope for news of our family and loved ones, our colleagues, our fellow aid workers? Even as we give thanks that some of our precious colleagues have been found in the hotel rubble, we know also of tragic news.
How many 100s, 1000s, 10,000s 100,000s?
Each precious and loved by someone and by God.
Understanding disaster is impossible
Yet God does just about manage such understanding.
And God’s understanding begins with a broom and a lamp.
Jesus offers us a powerful image in Luke's gospel of God bringing light and sweeping in the dust, searching and searching until that which is lost is found. It is a beautiful picture, a feminine picture, speaking of the compassion and effort of a loving God for those who are lost in whatever way - those of us lost in fear and grief for news of loved ones; those lost in the dust of resignation, rage or distress; those lost in real dust and rubble; those lost in a nearly destroyed civil society.
This parable of grace can speak to all of us faced with lostness, it speaks of a God taking very practical action - a broom, a light, some hard work - to restore and redeem that which is lost. Very ordinary and necessary practical work, work often done by the least valued in our societies migrant workers, women - even in this house. God's hands get dirty in this painstaking work. This dusty work speaks to us as we seek to support and mobilise the practical action and commitment of our churches and their aid agencies in Haiti. It speaks also of the work that lies in the years ahead to rebuild Haiti in so many ways.
Understanding disaster is impossible
Yet God calls us to take up broom and lamp and bear witness to the love and compassion of Christ in all situations.
In a world facing so many disasters, both natural and human in origin, let us pray that God will continue to come in grace with lamp and broom to redeem our lostness and grief, and search out the lost coin of global and local solidarity.
Tuesday, 12 January 2010
I have had a brilliant, difficult, distressing and fabulous day. A day when two good people drew hearts on post it notes and left them on my computer screen. A day also when I have cried - I don't do that often. There has been comfort from a good and wise friend and I have learnt some very powerful things about myself - from my own words. Sometimes you have to get sad and upset, feel as if you're at the end in order to begin to formulate your inner turmoil and find a way out.
My wise friend is also learnèd and told me about how in the apocryphal gospels the image of the heavenly banquet is of bread and fish - the fish representing chaos and the bread, civilisation. This was quite a revelation to me - and of course the fried fish breakfast Jesus eats post resurrection with his disciples takes place on that most liminal of places, the beach. I had never before thought about fish as symbols of the fruit of the terrifying chaotic waters, nor really about bread as the fruit of civilisation, symbolising the static not quite so terrifying city.
Anyone who has visited my office knows that I can live with chaos - or that I have a high tolerance for disorder (though some this week have been shocked at the apparent order that is briefly reigning there for a few days this week, rumours that this is because I'm worried about receiving the award for the most untidy office are not entirely unfounded), but I try not to descend completely into it. I'm not happy all the time with the ordered existence of the city - my ideal city would definitely be inspired by Hundertwasser very organic and colourful - so my natural dwelling is the shore, the beach. It's the place of liturgy, the place of living with contradictions, the place for great breakfast parties, for holding together the ambiguities of chaos and order; it's also the place for tears.
I understood much more about myself and about others as a result of the conversation with my wise and vulnerable friend. I understood my own distress a bit more and I groped towards understanding the strange spirituality of resistance I have been involved in over recent months.
Tonight as I reflect on this and much, much more, I realise what I learned from Jürgen Ebach 20 years ago holds true for me today also. Actually I am only just crossing the red sea into the desert and leaving Egypt behind, the land of promise is part of my faith-filled vision but there's quite a way to go camping in the desert first.
The desert like the beach is often a sandy, stony place; a liminal, dangerous, ambiguous place. But it is also a place to be close to that which is essential - tears, joy, hope.
One of the things I have learnt over the past five years is how to prepare liturgy and services in such a way that I myself have no active role once the worship takes place. I'm gradually realising that doing this is much harder work than just relying on yourself - you need to encourage, empower and sometimes even train others to take up a role. The energy and tension are also very different - less of an internal search for resources and being hyper-aware of how you are "performing", more of an external awareness, becoming eyes and ears to see how it is going along. Yesterday morning things went along just fine and even I was taken by surprise when the person supposed to read one of the prayers simply wasn't at the microphone. After a pause I took over, though not in the language they had been going to speak in.
I've not had much chance to think about this but feel I should try to do a bit of theological reflection about it - even if only on my blog. (Though why I say that quite like that I don't know - it makes it sound as if I might be writing in some more elevated sphere!) Anyway it is reading about "curating" worship on the blogosphere that triggered some of these thoughts.
Over on the creative worship tour you can find some disparaging remarks about "leading worship" as opposed to the loftier "curating" of worship - sorry that sounds a bit negative, it's actually a very helpful post for anyone groping towards an understanding of what curating worship might mean.
There's more on the theme of curating worship on Jonny Baker's blog and here at faithsawayof life. I suppose "curating" is a way of trying to affirm a way of integrating arts, music and perhaps also the whole plasticity of the worship space into the idea of worship. A way also of trying to find a more holistic less word-based approach.
Part of me reacts against all this worship as experience, as another "event" to be consumed. Sometimes I feel that we should just get on with doing it in a "good enough" way. Learning to be quiet and pray, learning to sing and be joyful, learning to listen to and interpret God's word are in themselves pretty tall orders, must things always, always be "new" and arty?
Yet I say that as a person who when I'm asked to speak about worship will often turn up with a large paintbrush and a box of crayons as a symbol of getting others to think outside the box, to understand and do differently. A prayer can be painted or sculpted as surely as it can be said, sung or written. And of course worship can be a sort of flash mob kind of experience. If I am going to "curate" worship in time and space, in colour and sound and music, then I want it to be in a way that enourages relationship with God and with others, not simply in a way that gives people an individual experience. I'm wary of having to be ever more creative in a way that can ultimately allienate people, not because of the art itself but because they are encouraged to come and consume. But I have been really interested by some of Steve Taylor's ideas around worship - I really appreciate how honest he has always been talking about reactions to some of his ideas as well.
I know that much "curated" worship is highly relational and in many ways a reaction against worshippers as consumers of words said by a leader at the front. I suppose I just wonder where some of the everydayness of ordinary morning and evening prayer fit in to the curating business. Hmm ... lots to still think about on this one - loads more reading to do. Leave me some links in the comments if you have some ideas about this. I'm rather a neophyte to all this terminology.
Thanks to the excellent Suzanne McCarthy for pointing to David Rosenberg's new translation A Literary Bible.
Years ago I read Rosenberg's the Book of J and enjoyed it very much - as much for its imagination as for its scholarship - which is not at all to do down the scholarship, the imagination of the writer of the book of J being a woman was fascinating.
Suzanne also points to Frank Kermode's review of A Literary Bible, where he takes up some of the links and progress from the Book of J to the current Bible in translation.
It does sound as if I might have to treat myself to this even if we seem to have no bookshelf space left and I dream longingly of buying the house next door to turn into a library!
Here are some extracts from the Amazon blurb and reviews:
A Jewish sage once said of the original Bible, "Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it." David Rosenberg has done just this and thus created A Literary Bible, a breathtaking translation that sets a new standard for reading and interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures.
Until the present moment, translators have presented a homogeneous Bible in uniform style — even as the various books within it were written by different authors, in diverse genres and periods, stretching over many centuries. Now, Rosenberg’s artful translation restores what has been left aside: the essence of imaginative creation in the Bible.
There are other wonderful aspects of Rosenberg's book. Included are prefaces to the readings and there is a wonderful epilogue, "How the Bible Came About" and an afterward, "How This Book Came About". One thing that I certainly discovered is that this translation is the one I will keep close to me especially when I want to read for the sheer pleasure of reading.
Monday, 11 January 2010
Today the WCC's new general secretary the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit preached for the first time in that role in the chapel. The service welcomed him to his new role and also welcomed in the New Year as many staff were back in the office for the first time today following Western and Eastern Christmas. "In the name of Jesus may the old year be over. In the name of Jesus may the New Year begin."
Tveit encouraged us to "let [the New Year] begin in the name of Jesus, the beloved. In this name we can have courage to start again ...
The time of Epiphany helps us to see how the mystery of goodness and the movement of love come to us in Jesus. It does so in the baptism of Jesus, as the first transformative sign of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus."
As often happens with sermons my attention got taken by one small detail, the shift from "you are my son" in Psalm 2, a Psalm said for and over kings and the powerful, to the words that come from the highest heaven at Christ's baptism "You are my Son, the beloved". God's son, the beloved, not a temporal ruler. This beloved one transforms the world through a different kind of power meaning we can all be beloved daughters and sons of God.
You can find the full text of the sermon here and the full service here.
There was a moving moment at the end of the intercessions when my colleague Theodore Gill departed somewhat from the written form of the prayers and prayed for each of the directors and general secretaries of the various organizations using their first names.
After the blessing in Norwegian and some singing we had a more lighthearted moment giving the new GS some gifts: a large card saying Welcome - Velkommen signed by many of us with the words welcome in our own languages; an icon from Romania depicting the baptism of Christ in the Jordan; and as Olav and his wife Anna have just moved to Geneva something to make their household truly Swiss a "caquelon à fondue" with some ready grated fondue mixture.
Then we moved into the lobby for coffee and Galette des rois and got to know our new boss in a more relaxed way.
Sunday, 10 January 2010
This weekend new worlds have been opened to me while editing - poetic worlds, strange worlds, worlds only available in translation - unless you happen to read Norwegian.
The book pictured here "The dream we carry" by Olav H. Hauge is a bilingual edition in English and Norwegian of Hauge's poetry and I th ink I may have to buy a copy.
Here are some extracts from from what Olivia Cronk says about him:
Olav Hauge was a Norwegian farmer and gardener. He had an orchard in the town in which he was born, Ulvik. He read hungrily many types and tones of poetry. He translated. He labored on a small bit of land.
I love the idea of "Trusting your life to water and eternity". And here is part of Robert Bly's translation of one of Hauge's poems:
This is the dream we carry through the world
that something fantastic will happen
that it has to happen
that time will open by itself
that doors shall open by themselves
that the heart will find itself open
that mountain springs will jump up
that the dream will open by itself
that we one early morning
will slip into a harbor
that we have never known.
Thursday, 7 January 2010
For Epiphany Martin Sinaga who comes from Indonesia and works for the LWF led prayers yesterday morning and reflected on how Christ's baptism is the true sign of Epiphany in Orthodox theology.
Martin wove the festival of the shining forth of Christ to all the nations with the countries we are praying for in the ecumenical prayer cycle this week. He focused in particular on the country of Yemen - much in the news at the moment because of terrorism and its dictatorial regime. He told a story about how coffee and the drinking of coffee was according to one story discovered in Yemen by a Muslim Sufi mystic - who brewed his first coffee drink after seeing a goat chewing on a coffee berry and supposedly seeming much better afterwards. Might that first drink of coffee have been a kind of epiphany. It had been Muslims from Yemen who had taken the story of the Prophet to Indonesia and converted many there to Islam, to the 99 most beautiful names of God - the compassionate one, the patient one, the source of peace, the shaper of beauty ...
As we reflected on Christ being God's beloved one, Martin encouraged three people to share the stories of their names, their sense of being "beloved" by God, their following of Christ, their stories of baptism.
So there was much to think about after our epiphany morning prayer but I did have a passing thought about whether that coffee berry chewing goat was called Starbuck.
Tuesday, 5 January 2010
Germany has a Wort and Unwort des Jahres in a similar way to the American Dialect Society's vote on Words of the Year in various categories. Interestingly Austria has different Wort and Unwort des Jahres to Germany and I really rather like "Analogkäse" - a truly splendid Unwort.
Word "czars" at Lake Superior State University "unfriended" 15 words and phrases and declared them "shovel-ready" for inclusion on the university's 35th annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.
"The list this year is a 'teachable moment' conducted free of 'tweets,'" said a Word Banishment spokesman who was "chillaxin'" for the holidays. "'In these economic times', purging our language of 'toxic assets' is a 'stimulus' effort that's 'too big to fail.'"
So which words do you want to unfriend?
As a reviser and editor of course I have to own up to banishing words with my red pen all day long. Such is life.
For morning prayer the chapel was warmer even as we trudged through crisp snow once more to get to work.
We are praying through the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle for the countries of the gulf peninsula this week including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran and Iraq ...
Today was the eve of epiphany, the last day of Christmas - even if tomorrow is traditionally 12th night. We lit candles on the Christmas wreath, we prayed and we listened to the second half of chapter 2 of John's gospel. The money changers being driven from the temple. I always think of MArk's gospel as being the one that really gets on with the story yet it struck me powerfully today that John gets to grips with even more in terms of who Christ in within two chapters. The glorious logos-celebrating poetry of the beginning moves on to John the Baptist's preaching, confessions of faith about the Messiah and Jesus choosing disciples and then turning of water into wine at Cana. And this followed directly by the shocking story of Christ making a whip and turning over the tables of the money lenders. No shepherds, wise men or angels, no baby in a manger nor pregnant young woman for the teller of John's gospel.
Christ the logos of truth and light is confessed as the messiah, leads and chooses followers, humbly turns water into glorious wine (as a foretaste of the resurrection banquet) and becomes the prophetic logos incarnate sternly saying "you will not turn my father's house into a market place".
On the last day of Christmas I realised once more that the Christmas story isn't about prettiness and niceness this is about God incarnate bening born amongst us to to transform us and the world.
Thanks to Hansuli Gerber for pointing to the German Jahr der Stille a project of several churches in Germany to promote silence as part of prayer and the search for God.
As he remarks there seem to be rather alot of words and printed material and even podcasts to promote the year. Nevertheless I think the idea of encouraging silence, even just a breath between words and ideas is a really important idea. Using silence in public worship is quite complex and somehow words and music need to be used to introduce it as well as some calm leadership (or curatorship as it seems sometimes now to be called). In ecumenical contexts silence can also sometimes be interpreted negatively - silence might mean that the leaders have lost their place, worship meaning that prayer continues.
I am a noisy person for whom silence is essential. Without silence I cannot find my voice. I love the quote from Søren Kierkegaard that Jahr des Stille has at the top of their website - one day I must look at the original Danish as the German has a rather different ring to it compared with the English:
"A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening."
On my way to Crete last year I read Sara Maitland's A Book of Silence. I understand her search for real and meaningful silence but I also know how terrifying it can be. Holding together words, silence and music, speaking and listening are what worship is about for me. Sometimes when I am alone with God I am surprised that I need to speak aloud or sing to God, to myself to the walls of the room I'm in. Perhaps speech or thought is the only way to stop my busy thoguhts.
So I wonder how silent will I learn to be in the year of silence?
Monday, 4 January 2010
I don't normally really have time to get involved in online discussions but got waylaid a little this evening by David Ker's post at Think Christian on Gay Africa.
Here's the first paragraph from David's piece:
For those of us who label homosexual practice as a sin it can be easy to get muddled up about government attempts to legislate and prosecute sexual behavior. There is a difference between legislation designed to protect the vulnerable from victimization and that which tries to monitor and control consensual relationships. We must stand up for children and women at risk. Society must create a safe environment for its citizens, free from rape, chronic abuse and exploitation. But while the church can condemn adultery, fornication, pornography, prostitution and homosexuality as corrosive behavior we shouldn’t try to police them. The church exists as a society within a society. We have an obligation to God’s Word and his flock to strive toward purity. But outside the walls of the church our role is different. We can be prophets of truth but never legislators of behavior. That’s why a theocracy like ancient Israel failed from the beginning. A quick survey of the crude and androcentric laws found in the Book of Numbers show just how wrong we can get it.Continue reading and get involved in the comments here. Below is part of (well actually very nearly all of) my second comment. I suppose what I find interesting about very occassionally getting involved in these online discussions is how they can sometimes get me to say something I'd not written or even thought much about before. to be fair I have done quite a lot of thinking about homosexuality and about who is "in" and "out" for the church, I just don't write about it here, mainly because I'm very wary of getting drawn onto discussions I won't be able to cope with.
Let me also be clear that I don't equate "being" homosexual with "being" sinful anymore than I equate "being" heterosexual with "being" righteous. I am certainly as sinful a person as many of the homosexuals I know, as much in need of transformation and cleansing. I know many celibate homosexuals. I know many who live in faithful long term relationships. I can also fortunately say the same about many heterosexuals I know. I also have many friends who have left partners with whom they have had children and founded new relationships and had further children. I have welcomed them and many other sinners and impure people at the Lord's table - and I have presided that table knowing that I too am far from the transformed human being Christ calls me to be.
It sometimes seems to me that as divorce rates increase there has been a need amongst some of us in the church to look for a new sin to condemn that is not too close to home.
So easy to point to the need for healing in the unknown other and assume that their "lifestyle" is more impure than our own. The many stones of sin in my own hand would be - being rich (oh how difficult it is for a rich woman to get into the kingdom of heaven), being fat (not treating my body as temple of the Holy spirit), not practising the beatitudes or hearing the magnificat call sufficiently. Despite these very great failings (and the Bible has a lot to say about how we use our wealth) I still trust that Christ integrates me with grace and forgiveness to his table and church.
Water fell not in liquid but in frozen snowflake form in Geneva overnight and it was cold in the chapel this morning as Father Daniel Buda and his fellow priest from the Romanian Orthodox community in Geneva led us in the traditional Orthodox blessing of the waters for epiphany and the beginning of the calendar year. The service included beautiful chanting and prayers which came in a mixture of French and Romanian today, and the reading of the whole of chapter 35 from the book of Isaiah.
At the end after the waters have been blessed the priest vigorously sprinkles the purified waters and blesses the building and the people.
We encouraged people to say whether they wanted their offices blessed and afterwards we toured the building blessing the offices, beginning appropriately enough at the offices of the Ecumenical Water Network.
It was good going around the building blessing the offices, wishing people a happy new year, taking epiphany out of the chapel. There were moving moments too blessing the place where our cleaning staff work from, blessing the office of a colleague currently on sick leave and blessing the office of the WCC's new general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit with both water and specially sung prayers. Next Monday will be his first day in the office.
You can see stunning photos of a much colder blessing of the waters here on the Keeping the Faith site. The photos by Peter Williams come from Finland where the waters are blessed by a hole being cut into the ice - an ice sculpture cross is made next to the hole and the waters are then blessed by the priest lowering a cross into the waters to purify them before also sprinkling the people with the water.
What I love about the January ritual in Finland is that those who take part in the service walk on the water (on the frozen ice) to get to the ice cross and water hole. Wonderful imagery.
May you too be blessed as Christmas moves into Epiphany.
Sunday, 3 January 2010
Over on Novice blogger Janet has posted a raw prayer called dying day. On Christmas morning an asthma attack caused a 17 old's death. Raw praying in the cold, in the wet, in the sunshine, in the wind; thus begins a New Year for so many.
Tomorrow will be my dying day:
the day before yesterday was yours.
You didn’t buy a ticket,
you didn’t book a place
and yet there you were
suddenly at the front of the queue.
I suppose my new year's resolution should really be learning how to deal with photos and images I want to put on my blog. The logo above would be better a bit bigger. Anyway big is not always beautiful, the message of the UN year of biodiversity is that the planet's diversity is beautiful.
You can access some great educational material on biodiversity and also visit other resources on the biodiversity is life site. It's a way of moving 2009's 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species forwards.
At work we are in the process of preparing an issue of Ecumenical Review on the Greening of the Church, following on from Copenhagen and the previous 20 years of campainging on issues related to creation. This sets me wondering what thinking about biodiversity might have to offer our thinking on ecumenism. That will have to be for another post.
2010 is also the international year for the rapprochement of cultures, about which you can read more on the wonderful UNESCO website.
But what will 2010 be the year of for me? Well 2010 marks me entering my second decade of living with MS. And given that the latest terrorist attempt on a transatlantic plane tried to use a syringe as a trigger, I imagine that 2010 will be the year when I try to avoid travelling by air if at all possible. My syringes can't go in the hold - they break in the cold - and trying to get them throught security is always interesting. We'll see how things go.
What will 2010 be the year of for you?
Saturday, 2 January 2010
Today the sun shone. The views were beautiful, snow again topped the Jura after the previous fall had been washed away by days of mild rain. The frost is back.
We attended a funeral of a friend and former colleague, presided by a Lutheran pastor in a small French village Catholic church. We spoke a mixture of French, English and German. As we walked uphill behind the hearse to the cemetry we had glorious views but this was not easy grieving. Resurrection will be hard struggled for even as the snow clad peaks and sunshine spoke to us of a possible different dimension.
Her grandson threw roses into the grave, two: one for his grandmother the other for his mother with whom she now lay ... and a letter.
And after chatting and trying to say how sorry we were, we came home. Everyday grief for all of the family, it's not special, it's hard work. And it can break your heart.
At the service we read a confession of faith by Ion Karakash that I must try to try translate into English, it offered hope in ambiguity.
Yesterday in a conversation about grief someone else who has recently lost a close relative sent me this powerful hymn by Fred Kaan which moved me deeply. He was about my age when he wrote these words ... So we all try to take up the thread of life ... in many ways today has not been a sad day for me but a gentle and joyous one. I had time to think and pray and be.
Today I live, but once shall come my death.
One day shall still my laughter and my crying,
bring to a halt my heartbeat and my breath.
Lord, give me faith for living and for dying.
How I shall die, or when, I do not know, nor where,
for endless is the world's horizon;
but save me, Lord, from thoughts that lay me low,
from morbid fears that freeze my power of reason.
When earthly life shall close, as close it must,
let Jesus be my brother and my merit.
Let me without regret recall the past,
then, Lord, into your hands commit my spirit.
Meanwhile I live and move and I am glad,
enjoy this life and all its interweaving.
Each given day, as I take up the thread,
let love suggest my mode, my mood of living.
Fred Kaan © 1975 Hope Publishing Co
Friday, 1 January 2010
We have had a relaxing New Year's day eating, drinking and talking with two good friends. It has been good for us.
We have also made an attempt to deal with the hundreds of photos we took (with our splendid mobile phones) while in Venice.
You can see my photos here and Dr B's here.
When we arrived back from the city of canals both of us felt rather seasick and "swimmy" for a while as if our bodies were trying to adjust to not being on board either a vaporetto or a tilting train - or maybe it was withdrawal symptoms from drinking prosecco!
It was a real privilege to be able to be in Venice at such a special time of the year. It was good to simply drink in the beauty, get lost in sidestreets and switch off. A good way to bring the year to a close in a city with no cars.
The water, its sound, reflection and movement was both relaxing and energising, making me more aware of how light falls and opens up new ways of seeing. Visiting the Peggy Guggenheim collection of futurist and modern art on our last day also did that. I particularly loved the Anish Kapoor sculpture of polished granite (2nd row far right) which reflects those looking at it upside down and shows you leaving and entering the reflection on the opposite side. Quite a good sculpture to think about as we begin the month of Janus - looking backwards and forwards all at once.
Will the new year that opens really change my perspective, will travel to Venice have broadened my mind or narrowed it?
Happy New Year to you all, whatever your perspectives.