Monday, 19 July 2010

A sermon about ambiguity and the beatitudes

An attempt at living with ambiguity – sermon by Jane Stranz
Text: Matthew 5 1-12

At times of particular personal distress
At times when I seek structure and discipline
At times when I want the comfort of the familiar

I read the Beatitudes

I find there neither easy consolation nor cheap grace
No hard and fast truth
But I do find simple yet complex spiritual poetry
And the ambiguous outline of the faith I seek to profess
Here are words which move me powerfully
Yet I would not claim to fully comprehend them, to understand their secret
A triumph of liminal, ambiguous faith
Or perhaps not even a triumph at all
but just strength in weakness and contradiction

So this morning as I invite you to reflect on the messy, complex contradictory nature of life
And think about how you find meaning, consolation, structure and comfort in the face of all of that

And to do that I invite you to come with me to the beach - after all it's holiday time and I realised that it’s the perfect place to go to experience ambiguity and liminality

At the beach that which is seemingly hard - the rock - meets that which is seemingly soft - the water
There we discover the power of the soft sea
Turning rock to sand
The permanence of cliffs which fall into the ocean
Even the tides are not at the same time every day
Don’t go to the beach if you want things to stay put
The open sky changes colour and contour
The wind bites or kisses our faces
The beach is a raw place, almost like a desert
It’s a place of shifting sands, dunes and landscapes, of permanent impermanence
Yet it is also a deeply fertile place
Since the dawn of humanity coastlines have been places where people have settled to harvest what the land and ocean produce together.
In our modern time the beach is also a place of recreation and relaxation
Of barbecues and volley ball

In many monastic communities and in many part of what we call the modern new monasticism
It is in the middle of the day, at the heart of work and life that the beatitudes are prayed
An affirmation that spiritual truth needs to be sought not in cathedrals of purity but in the ambiguous and sometimes terrible grind of daily life.

The beatitudes are not a prayer for fundamentalist people of faith
They are a call to people to live out their faith
One of the versions of the Beatitudes that I particularly enjoy reading is the French translation by André Chouraqui who is Jewish – instead of Blessed he translates the Greek Makarios as “En marche”.
It took Archbishop Elias Chacour – a Palestinian Christian – to explain to me that Chouraqui’s Jewish translation into French is actually closer to the Aramaic, Hebrew term "ashreï" that Jesus would have used rather than the Greek "makarioï" which in French or English is often rendered as happy or blessed. But "ashreï" has rather the meaning get up or get going, debout or en marche in French.
Ah … the ambiguity of a Palestinian Christian understanding a French Jewish translation of the Bible more deeply than so many others…

The Beatitudes particularly at this reflective holiday time can help us develop an engaged spirituality of the threshold, of the in-between, of the ambiguous
An engaged spirituality of infinite patience which tries to learn to live with incoherence.

Theologians haves different ways of talking about living in this ambiguous place of the threshold
Jürgen Ebach – whose name I only realize now is actually an anagram of beach – calls one of his books:
Remembered future and a hoped for past
„Erinnerte Zukunft and erhoffte Vergangeheit“
The threshold is the ambiguous place we look back from and forwards from
The past will always be part of the future and strangely the future is also part of the past

As we seek to practise an engaged spirituality of the threshold
the Beatitudes help us to “set out” into the ambiguity of life, to be blessed and become blessed
As we reflect on the threshold and the beach
It is not all about finding resources from within ourselves
We are not alone
Christ himself is waiting for us at the beach – even if it is a lakeside rather than an ocean beach - inviting us to a barbecue of bread and fish. Accompanying us into the further ambiguity of our lives.

After all, who is the Risen One other than ambiguous, unambiguous truth and compassion?

Blessed are those who dare to live the ambiguity of faith
Blessed are those who realize that to trust means to risk
Blessed are those who fail and yet still seek to go forwards.

And I end these half thought out reflections on ambiguity with part of a poem by the Irish Roman Catholic theologian, John O’Donohue

The Inner History of a Day (excerpt)

We seldom notice how each day is holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.

Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.

So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And the wisdom of the soul become one

copyright (c) Jane Stranz/WCC


Deirdre said...

Thanks Jane. You give us much to ponder...

Mavis said...

Jane this is just amazing. I love your train of thought.

Jane said...

Thanks for reading my sermon and for your comments