Sunday, 9 May 2010

Radically open church - Holding in rage

A friend died. It was not an easy death, she still had young and needy children. Their father in some other country across an ocean appeared for occasional summer holidays. She struggled to survive but the cancer was strong in her beautiful and vital body. There were no beautiful moments of reconciliation, just preparation for the inevitable worst and requests to look after the children.
Her dying was part of those of us around her. I remember the beautiful fragile translucence of her skin as painkiller was injected. That terrible intimacy of the needle which brings pain and relief. The injecting she could not do alone, that at least could be shared.

She asked us to keep someone away from her funeral, a person who had behaved badly towards her in practical petty and real ways. We didn't manage of course to exclude this person or even to have a quiet word with them beforehand. Our grief was too acute. I remember it was early springtime and as I preached at the funeral I thought of Susan Hill's wonderful book "in the Springtime of the Year" - unknown of course to the francophone congregation. At the end of the service our friend's "enemy" made a point of coming and speaking with me - they really wanted to be seen to talk with "the minister". It probably wasn't conscious this trying to achieve absolution by talking to the cleric, but I recognized in that moment just how much rage I was containing as I remained civil and in role. I listened to this person's pointless platitudes (you may note that civil as I may have been I did not refrain from judgement!) and felt as though I was betraying the friend I had only just placed in her grave.

Only now many years later do I realise that I would not want to exclude anyone ever from church, let alone from a funeral. All of us will know grief in our lives - it is not life if it does not know grief - all of us need to be welcomed at those times, Being radically open means that you may find yourself singing and praying to God with your enemy sitting next to you. You trust in some way that God can hold all of these conflicting versions of truth and reality together, because you know that you cannot, even if we all try to hear the insistent call to reconciliation.

And of course in the end who am I to throw the first stone? It was not the "holy" people who worried about excluding an enemy from the funeral, but an ordinary non-church family who took in the children and provided a home for them. Simply and straightforwardly.
I think it's called love. It's what the gospel is about but theologians like me often worry about whether we've got our thinking about love sorted out and forget to just get on and practise it in humility, simplicity and joy.
May God forgive me.


Dr B said...

Another powerful post!

Jane said...

thanks Dr B - however you're the one with the gold medal