WHO AM I?

Headshot portrait of German religious leader and resistance participant Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945), who touches his forehead, early to mid 1930s. An outspoken critic of the Nazi regime, the Lutheran pastor and theologian was ultimately hanged at Flossenburg Concentration Camp. (Photo by Authenticated News/Getty Images)

TWELVE AROUND TABLE this morning, as of long ago, gathered for burning bush encounter the rabbi said all could and should know. With genius insistence on open hospitality, Jesus gathered people around – thankfully, eucharistically, speaking of God in the midst of them, in-their-flesh, in ‘adamah, earthed and in touch, breathing ruach, God-breath, communion, in and through and for and all around them – in and on and of Genesis ground.

There are times, many times, when it seems that God’s message for all of us is, as Fr Richard Rohr often reminds us: “Don’t get rid of the pain until you have learned its lessons.” Hard though it be for us to grasp, desperately disinclined to undergo it, brokenness heals us into wholeness.

Unfortunately, Fr Richard goes on to reflect, “we have the natural instinct to fix pain, to control it, or even, foolishly, to try to understand it. The ego always insists on understanding. That’s why Jesus praises a certain quality even more than love, and he calls it faith. It is the ability to stand in liminal space, to stand on the threshold, to hold the contraries, until you move to a deeper level where it all eventually makes sense in the great scheme of God and grace.” (Adapted from The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered)

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And, of course, some of us have no other choice available to us than lonely grace and space into which to speak our prayers and our questions. For some, some of the time, as for Pastor Bonhoeffer, there’s no other option available. But the life and witness of this pastor called our attention to the Jesus who calls people to round table, to pray and to stay and to question together – breathing the life of communion: a higher, lower, deeper, broader, wider dispensation, the kingdom of heaven.

WHO AM I? … Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

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WHO AM I? They often tell me I stepped from my cell’s confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a Squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me I used to speak to my warders freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me I bore the days of misfortune equally, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of? Or am I only what I myself know of myself? Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

EYE TO EYE

TOWARDS THE END OF THE DAY I watched three or four squirrels at play. We live in their garden – the one they share with five or six wood pigeons who are so liberally supplied with scraps from the table that I sometimes wonder, as I watch them waddling around the lawn, whether they could take off in a hurry if need be. But I digress.

The squirrels spend much of the day chasing each other up and down the oak tree and round and round the perimeter fence that marks out their territory. Until early evening when, apparently certain of their safe space, they’re often to be found sitting up quietly, as though at prayer. Tonight one of them met my watching eyes – and it’s happened, by the grace of God, before – and we meditated, contemplated one another. And I had a gentle sense that the little fellow was probably rather better at it than I.

And then, at 8pm, our monthly Meditation gathering assembled over in the church. The gentle sound of others’ quiet breathing soothes my soul. Shared silence and stillness. Balm. And I realise that my encounter with God here, the One silently contemplating the other, happened only a little space before with a reflective grey squirrel as we, he and me, were able to encounter each other eye to eye.

the golden evening brightens in the west …

WORLD-CHANGING

Simon Marsh:

WHAT ARE WE HERE FOR? …

Originally posted on Simon Marsh:

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TOMORROW will see Apple’s launch of iCloud. People who follow their dreams and live out of their limitless imaginations (one might say, “in the power of the Spirit”) can change not only nomenclature but also the very way humankind behaves and relates …

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NATURE?

CAN'T SLEEP. Watched Rev which helped the winding down process after the Annual Parochial Church Meeting. Ate pizza with friends – for which oh so many thanks. But can't sleep – again – and the diary's full tomorrow, and pretty much for the rest of the week. And actually it's not the church meeting itself that's keeping me awake – not this particular one, anyway! But I've been haunted all weekend by a photo-piece under “World” in the Times.

The full horror of nature: A heavily pregnant zebra shows dignity in her final moments as she is eaten alive by spotted hyenas in Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya … she remained stoic and dignified to the end – photographer Marc Mol

I cried. Her beautiful eyes looking straight ahead – as though directly into mine – whilst being savaged to death. Oh, dear God, I cried. And I cannot erase the photograph from my mind. And the trouble is that the mind's eye picture is a flickering one. Sometimes the eyes are those of a beautiful, beautiful zebra. Sometimes the stoic dignity is to be seen in the eyes of a young Syrian mother in a hospital bed – recovering (?) from having set herself alight, a living beacon of human distress at her enforced inability to provide for the children who stood by her whilst she burned – being savaged. Sometimes they're the eyes of beautiful people, deeply in love – being savaged by an institution that preaches about love like there's no tomorrow.

How're ya doin' Vicarage?

Well: wide awake actually. Again. And wondering how on earth I find myself spending hour after hour listening to debates about hymn books and service papers when we live in a world that's crying out – looking me dead in the eye, whilst being savaged – stoically crying out for mercy.

I cannot bear to share these pictures here. Better to share a raindrop, a tear, if you like, reflecting a whole wide world. And I don't want to hear that it's not a vicar's job to keep innocent zebras free from the threat of hyenas. They taught me that in the seminary a long, long time ago. But it is the vicar's job, and everybody's job, to keep persons protected from savagery – and at any rate I'll never stop longing for the day when “the lion shall lie down with the lamb”.

Pray, pray, pray. Let's leave the hymn book on the shelf for a day or two. No more beating people over the head with the Bible (anyone's Bible) – lest some sad day we ourselves be knocked dead by our own crude and blunt weapons. Couldn't we have a few days off spouting badly-understood creeds and misused sacred scriptures? – Reflect a bit upon our terrifyingly destructive ignorance? – Try to get a handle on the richness, the unity in diversity, the poetry of life?

And ACT. Gird up our loins. Speak up. Speak out for an end to each and every act of human savagery and self-centred, self-satisfied, religious obsequiousness. In God's “dispensation” either everyone's in or everyone's out. And anyone reading this is called to be human and humane – and not a spotted hyena.

LORD OF LIFE, help me never to stop reflecting upon the grace with which zebras – and you alone know how many beautiful humans – “remained stoic and dignified to the end.”

Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy. And thank you. Thank you that Jesus wept. And for that resounding and tomb-shattering clarion call – LAZARUS! COME OUT!

 

SPRING SING

REALLY, REALLY THRILLED to share with Ordinand Tracy and our schools coordinator Jill at Moss Hey Primary School's Spring Sing today. An inspirational headteacher, terrific and deeply connected staff, really great youngsters and Tracy's telling of The Hungry Caterpillar, together with a marvellous array of Easter bonnets, reminded me why vicars are said to be amongst the happiest people “at work” you can meet. Thank you, Moss Hey, for a great Spring Sing. Have a very Happy Easter!

 

WILMSLOW WILDERNESS

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I VERY MUCH ENJOYED a brief visit to the marvellously reordered, Grade 1 listed, St Bartholomew’s Wilmslow today, where I was much taken with a simple but very, very striking representation of Jesus in the Wilderness – in a quiet corner of the Church. There’s such a great deal to be contemplated in the idea, the spiritual metaphor for us, of wilderness - a place where we come face to face with the reality, the depths, of our physical and spiritual selves.  I often return to the definition of wilderness found in several dictionaries as “a place that hasn’t been interfered with by humankind”. Wilmslow’s Wilderness provides much needed pause for thought in a sometimes too busy world, sacred or secular. Guess which neighbouring parish church might be discovering a little wilderness next year? ;)

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A FAMILY GATHERING on this most gloriously sunshiney day, for funeral thanksgiving for my Dad’s younger sister, May. A wonderful commixture, as all funerals are, of both sadness and enjoyed reminiscing. 82 years old Dad and his just-shy-of-90 years old brother Alan are the surviving two of ten siblings. Members of a large and spread-abroad family often only gather for arrivals, weddings and funerals. Some will barely know the day to day realities of each other’s lives – and the vast wealth of experience represented in such a gathering.

I met a delightful second cousin, Shropshire dairy farmer Neil, for the first time today. And Uncle Alan told me of his landing in Normandy at 6am on DDay – and his wondering most every day since how he ever got out of there. May was profoundly deaf for much of her life (30 years of which were enjoyed in Toledo, Ohio). The presence of some of her similarly deaf friends reminded me poignantly of the way she always made close eye contact in conversation. I was well into my late teens before the importance of eye contact for a deaf person dawned on me, and stayed with me, in all human relations.

I’ll especially remember May’s searching eyes – and the mind’s eye picture I have of her as a 5 year old clutching the hand of 7 years old Bob (my father) and boarding a train bound for Criccieth, North Wales – evacuated for safety on the eve of the Second World War – only a couple of years after the desperately sad and unexpected death of their young mother. Something about the sight of little ones then, as in parts of the world today, wide-eyed, with cardboard boxes strung about their little necks and modest little suitcases, ought to have taught humankind more about the folly of war.

Yes. There’s a thread woven in each and every family-life that binds, and a gladness – and a learning to be had – in little remembrances of shared histories. Something of life in the 1930s and onwards and upwards to the present day has been celebrated by members of my own family today – and by innumerable other families all over the world, too. It’s a gift, this remembering. A golden thread through good and ill, remembering still. A reflective love that binds.