Thursday, 17 May 2018

Diary of a chronically exhausted vicar. Part 2

I slept for the three days I was ordered to rest. Took it easy on the return to work for two days. Then Sunday I preached twice, and was pretty tired, but not as ill and unsteady on my feet as I had been the previous Sunday after the two services.

I got myself some takeaway for lunch. I think part of what I like about that particular one is the going for a drive to get it. Not a long drive. 15 minutes each way, but it's kind of nice to take a bit longer to get home after church, letting go time or something.

Ate my takeaway watching netball. I miss playing netball, but watching the top flight players doesn't make me sad for what I miss because as a casual social player, I am not in their league at all!

Chatted with family on skype for Mother's Day, which was lovely, but they all seemed as tired as me, which is saying something.

Then I was at an ecumenical church service for the World Council of Churches' Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I was reading the gospel. Part of me knew it was probably not exactly what I needed in the midst of this latest episode of extreme exhaustion, but I had committed, and I felt able enough to keep the commitment. The extravert side of me enjoyed the outing, networking with fellow ministers, meeting some I'd not yet met. And as a biblical storyteller, I relish any opportunity to 'animate' the biblical story (that's not my word, but the word of the Catholic Archbishop of Canberra after the service: she didn't proclaim the gospel, she animated it!)

I was tired Monday, but pressed on with collecting a parcel and some groceries from the local shops, filling the car with petrol, and finding my way to a nearby shopping centre where the optometrist I'd booked to see is located. I wandered slowly through the centre to find the optometrist, and with five minutes to spare, popped into a nearby clothes shop to look at dresses. I won't have the time or the energy to make the dress I planned to sew for my graduation after all. Sometimes you have to be realistic. Found a couple, set them aside to try after the appointment.

I did try them on, and the second one fit nicely, was comfy, reasonably kind to my curves which I try not to hate (so much medical hoo hah over the years has transformed a once skinny kid into a renaissance woman as much in body shape as in eclectic interests), and pretty. It will pick up one of the colours in the Agnew tartan scarf I plan to wear (compromise because I was going to the dress I was planning to sew was to have a skirt in the tartan). I bought it. It made me feel happy.

new things for house
expression of joy
I bought a fruit smoothie. Then I bought a few things for the house I'd been looking for. Then I was tired so I went home, put the new things in their place, and still managed to water the garden and bring in the washing from the line.

By Tuesday I thought I had probably overdone it the past two days, so I've been going at a reasonably slow pace this week, not pressing, but gently moving even so. For dishes don't wash themselves, and sermons won't write themselves either.

But I wanted to mention the optometrist visit in particular, for in the midst of all this challenging health stuff at present, I received a glowing report from the eye doctor. My eyes are becoming marginally more short sighted, but the current prescription for reading glasses needs no adjustment, and the slight increase in the long distance glasses could have been postponed if I wanted. I was ready for new frames, so I've got the new prescription. The better news is with the photos of my eyes, the optometrist was pleased to report they are healthy, no macular degeneration, no problems at all. Yay! A good health report so very welcome as they are few and far between.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Midweek Musing: Moving from resurrection to living

These were my thoughts for the Wesley congregation, worshipping at 9 am and 10:30 on Sunday 13 May. 

Biblical stories: The Ascension of Jesus from Juke 24:44–53 and Acts 1:1–11 

I am not so much interested in the empirical details of what may or may not have happened in the ascension of Jesus to heaven. I am interested in what the disciples felt, what they understood, and how that changed their empirical, actual, living and being. We get a sense of that in the breathless quality to this story, as with so many of the stories of Jesus resurrected. We also get a sense of the impact on the disciples in the very fact of the story being told for long enough that it became part of the foundational stories of the Christian faith movement.

More to the point, however, I am interested in what we feel, hearing this story, and how our encounter with the story, and with God, with Jesus, through the story, will change our living and being. This is a story of transformation and of action.

The story of the ascension forms something of a transition from the experience of Jesus resurrected to the living of the reality that is proclaimed by Jesus’ resurrection: the reality of new life and a new way of being. Easter is a season of such transition for us. Each year we enter again on Easter day the breathlessness of disciples discovering that death has been undone, then pause to linger here for these seven weeks in the awe and wonder and mystery, before we lose our breath again in the story of Pentecost, as the Breath Wind Spirit, the ruach of God knocks us off our feet then puts a fire in our bellies to the crack on with living into the resurrection.


If we are to live the resurrection, we must know it, know its story well enough that we can embody it. If we are to know a story, understand it well, we must encounter the story again and again. I don’t usually like to explain stories, but rather to let them speak for themselves. But that works better when a story has been composed and presented to an audience with that audience in mind. We are not the audience the author had in mind, and we have none of the cultural capital of that original, intended audience, so there are gaps when we hear it and we can’t fill them on our own. We do need some exploration and explanation, or at least to name our questions. And of course, if you’ve walked out of a theatre or cinema after a play or a movie, you’ve unpacked the story with your fellow audience members, told your own stories that were evoked by the characters and their story, wondered at motivations and plot developments,

So let us wrestle with the details of this story of the ascension of Jesus as told by the author known to us as Luke (he wrote both the gospel and Acts).

Luke tells us that Jesus opened their minds. Was this a magical moment, like a Vulcan mind meld or Jedi mind trick, or are we to picture an unfolding understanding through conversation over a number of hours?

Or perhaps this encountering of Jesus as Divine, with the spiritual presence and ability to be anywhere, as they’ve always known God to be, finally makes sense of the person they experienced as an embodied human being, and now their minds have been opened?

There is a continuity of the Jesus they know from pre-death and resurrection to post- resurrection but there is also a discontinuity from that earthly being in this new mode of being. This is an idea to which I will return.

The emphasis on Jerusalem and the Temple is important to note in the story. Jerusalem is synonymous with Judaism: the new creation, new age that begins with the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, begins here with the set aside people of God, the ancient nation of Israel. This new age does not discard Israel for others. But the story of God Most High is no longer limited to one people only, but is opened up as a story for all. And it begins in Jerusalem. The story, too, continues as much as it experiences some discontinuity from what has been.

As Luke expands on the story in Acts, Judea, Samaria, and the whole earth are named for the telling of this story. The new age embraces not only Gentiles, who are the classic other to the Jews, but also Samaritans – example of the enemies of the Jews.

We want to note in the story an obedience in the disciples as they return to Jerusalem to stay as Jesus commands them. So that when the men in white in Acts – angels? – remind them to stop looking to heaven and instead trust that Jesus will return, with the implied challenge to crack on with their living into the resurrection opening of the story of God beyond these old borders, we assume that they will again obey. The Acts of the Apostles tells that story. And, intended or unanticipated audience, we are to follow suit. We will consider in a moment what the story of the resurrection is that we are to take from this liminal space of awe and wonder into our ordinary every day.

Jesus lifts his hands in blessing, and this where I can tell you one way my story, and indeed our story, is evoked by this story – there is a liturgical richness I experience when I lift my hands in blessing among the gathered people. There is an openness to this stance, both to God and to you, an opening of myself to give and to receive with you and with God. Can you see Jesus standing, open, in blessing his disciples, his friends?

The disciples are said to worship and to bless God – I find that a strange notion, that I would bless God. It feels like that is the province of God, to bless, or perhaps we may bless one another. But in that stance of openness, receiving and giving, perhaps it makes sense, that, receiving blessing from God, we offer blessings in return. And we bless God when we bless each other.

Jesus withdrew and was carried up. In Acts, Luke adds the detail of a cloud that took him. Is Jesus’ withdrawal a simple, practical, stepping back to make space for heaven to embrace him in that moment? Is it part of the being carried up, that he was now finally leaving his earthly way of being to fully enter his resurrected mode of being? It is a withdrawal. Which may feel like a contrast to what Jesus says at the end of the gospel according to Matthew – I am with you always, even to the end of the age. There is a very real sense of paradox about Jesus and how he is present with his followers now: here, but not. Of our God, Holy One, Holy Three, we have known Wisdom or Word differently through Jesus the human person. We have also known the Creator differently, with the name Abba, Father, important for Jesus the human first century Jewish person. Now, after the resurrection, we get to know the Spirit in a new way, too, helping Jesus’ followers to experience encounters with Jesus in his new mode of being. The Divinity of Jesus is pronounced in these encounters with him, resurrected.

In the resurrection appearances, the disciples encounter the Sacredness of Jesus that they know to be qualities of God – a spiritual being, able to be anywhere, not bound by the flesh. But he is still fundamentally Jesus – his life lived on earth matters. Which helps us to affirm our continuing life on earth, the continuity of the old age. But life lived on earth for followers of Jesus is life lived participating in his resurrection, which brings about the beginning of the new age, new creation, and so there is a discontinuity with the way things have been, even if it is only in glimpses, and promise, and hope.

In resurrection, Jesus continues to be the person he was, recognisable to his friends, but who lives is not Jesus in that shared human form, but Jesus the Christ, the Divine. Jesus has been transformed through the resurrection into a different mode of being.

We know the resurrection not only by knowing the story well, but by living the resurrection. By living in a new mode of being that bears witness to the new age that has begun. Just as the invitation to be part of the people of God has not dismissed the original exclusive people of God, the Hebrews, Israelites, or Jews, so too God has not abandoned creation by sweeping it entirely away for the new. Resurrection life is like a seed transforming into a flower, the same and yet radically different. This is what Jesus calls us to live: creation is still good, as God declared in the beginning. It is being transformed from within, dying is being undone, and new life offers hope and promise and glimpses of the new creation unfurling.

Jesus’ resurrection is completed in the ascension into heaven. Whatever we believe about the physical empirical actualities of the events and experiences of the resurrection and ascension, these stories invite us to participate in the breathtaking hope of a new mode of being.

But for resurrection to take place, and although the final death has been undone, a kind of death still must happen. This has been the subject of much of our musing through Lent and Easter – seeking a deeper understanding of death and its necessary part in life. And we remember that Christian spirituality is a constant movement through some kind of dying, letting go, transformation, to new life.

And now we move from the stories of Easter and Jesus’ appearances as the resurrected Christ, towards the anointing of the community of resurrection life. Our next move will be with the disciples, to look forward, offer our blessing, our worship and our obedience, and crack on with living the resurrection, living life on earth as it is in heaven.


Why stand you there, looking heavenward?
In a cloud he left you, in a cloud
he comes again: the cloud is you.
'You will be my witnesses,' you heard
him say – crowd in around the story,
shout loud the invitation from the hills,
the time is now and always, see heaven
here, be heaven here on earth.



Thursday, 10 May 2018

Diary of a chronically exhausted vicar. Part 1.

It's Thursday. This time last week I came home for lunch after spending the morning at the church as usual, and I slept. For three hours.
I had been having a great week: nice drive to Yass (an hour away) on a lovely sunny Monday; productive day Tuesday planning worship, finishing off a translation of a portion of Acts, pastoral visit and a walk to the post office in the afternoon; a long walk and a hearty breakfast with church folk Wednesday morning, lunch with more church folk, and more work on the translation in the afternoon.
Thursday was an early start for the midweek prayer service, but I can usually perk up after coffee. I yawned my way through the whole morning, feeling myself skidding towards a crash.

I have written of the chronic exhaustion that plagued me throughout the PhD years. Debilitating financial stress a major culprit, and for many years before those three alone. No doubt 20 years of living with depression didn't help, either.
Muscles, inflamed, ached through the tendons to the bones. Thoughts became clouded, concentration impossible, memory flaky. I could sleep for hours through the day and still get eight solid hours at night. Lethargy like a lead weight making every task laboured.

This would last for days, sometimes weeks.

I had so many blood tests at the end of 2016, I felt like a pin cushion.

But no clear diagnosis. A referral to weight management, one step on the chronic fatigue management plan. A prescription to improve pheratin levels to help oxygen get through the blood better. But no clear diagnosis.

The prescription helped. The stress was relieved through a generous loan to ease the financial burden. And the pain subsided, the energy returned.

I had a good season of rest after the thesis was submitted, six weeks of waiting for the viva with no money to spend, so I watched netflix, walked the Meadows, recovered.

I was careful during the season of transition in Adelaide, didn't rush around trying to see everyone, conserved my energy for the demands of a new city, new job, new life, to come.

I have felt the tiredness of all the newness in Canberra, certainly. But I was taken by surprise this time last week, when I slept for three hours in the afternoon, then eight in the evening, and in spurts between work during both Friday and Saturday.
Sunday I managed to get to church to lead the two worship gatherings I had prepared, after I had a good long cry in the shower. The pain, the frustration, released so I could be present for the congregation.
I was spent after the first service. After the second, I could barely stand, and wanted only to curl up in a ball and burst into tears again. Every fibre of my being ached and I felt so very ill.

Monday I found a doctor (the new things continue for a whole year, or thereabouts, when you move to a new city). I was aware that I was sitting hunched in the chair in her office, crippled by the pain of inflamed muscles, though I'd taken anti-imflammatories an hour or so before. She prescribed stronger anti-inflammatories, and three days in bed. She heard me tell of the experiences of these episodes of exhaustion in the past, the tests in Edinburgh, and wondered with me at what all that ruling out of diagnosable things might mean: chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia. But still no diagnosis. I forgot to ask, actually.

So I will carry on trying to manage it based on the approaches other people have taken with chronic fatigue. I've cut caffeine right down already. I suppose the diet will have to lose other fun things like sugar and wine, or at least cut them right down, too.

Energy will need to be monitored, carefully: which means I will do what I hate to do and pull out of commitments if I find I have not the capacity to fulfil them when the time comes. More, though, I won't commit to so much, so as to conserve energy for the commitments I can not break.

I will try to remember to be kind to myself, not hating my body for doing this to me, not being too disappointed in myself for what feels like unreliability, not giving in to the fear that others are judging me weak, inconstant, hypochondriac. I don't like the thought of my colleague having to cover for me. I don't want my congregation to regret calling me, feel like I am an absentee minister.

It is hard to live with silent illnesses. I recall other children mocking me as putting it on when I asked to go to the sick room with a migraine, which would later see me throw up and sleep as the only way to recover. I recall being accused of using my back injury as a convenient excuse, or that God would only heal it if I got myself 'right' with God. I recall the shame that used to prevent me from naming my illness, depression, and I still will leave the room rather than listen to ignorant opinions about suicide.

I will be kind to myself, for I have learnt the importance of taking care of myself if I am to be present in the caring for others, as is my calling. I have learnt the importance of nurturing the health of the individual for the sake of the health of the community, of us all, fully human, only with each other.

And I will tell my story, in hope that it will encourage us all to respect and protect our energy, and to take good care with our health overall.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Midweek Musing: To bear fruit is to love

Reflection: Sunday 29 April 2018 – Easter 4

Sarah Agnew | Wesley and St Aidan’s Uniting Church

Acts 8:26-40
1 John 4:7-21 and
John 15:1-8

To bear fruit is to love. It is to feel love. To show love. To do love. And how are we to bear fruit – to love? We are to remain with Jesus.

That is the focus of this portion in John, not the burning of the non fruit bearing branches in apocalyptic anger and damnation. Not an anti-Jewish polemic that situates Jews as the non fruit bearing branches to be cast off. Not an anti-Judas rhetoric, either, that casts off a disciple Jesus did not himself condemn.

The Greek words for ‘cut off’ may carry some violent overtones, however, but I understand from those who have witnessed the pruning of vines that it is devastatingly more than simply trimming a branch or two here and there. I was watching Chris trim the bushes in the children’s courtyard this week, and that was heavy, hard, you could almost say, violent, work. Airo, one of the greek words translated as ‘cut off’, according to Richard Swanson means to seize violently and destroy. Then the author uses kathairo, which intensifies the verb to give it a meaning of annihilate. Within the agricultural context of this metaphor, such strong verbs are accurate to describe the event.

But the destruction, the fire, is not the point Jesus is making. This portion is not about the branches that are burnt. It is about the branches that bear fruit – and how.

Richard Swanson, who provoked my thinking on this passage this week, picks out another of the greek words: the one that is translated ‘every’ – every branch that does not bear fruit is pruned from the vine, as we heard in the NRSV translation – but it could actually mean each, or any. For Richard, this lessens the intensity of the act of pruning from that apocalyptic destruction of every branch that doesn’t bear fruit, as if there are tons of them, to a more regular maintenance for the health of the whole. Any branch that happens not to produce any fruit is removed. The fire is also therefore smaller, the branches put to another use, perhaps, Richard talks of farmers he knows using cut off apple wood to stoke fires for a sauna, rather than piled high in a bonfire blaze of waste in the paddock.

But again, the focus is not the fire. It is not the branches that are pruned from the vine. The focus of Jesus’ teaching here is on the bearing of fruit by branches on the vine. That’s what he mentions repeatedly. Bearing fruit. Which is to love. And how are we to bear fruit – to love? We are to remain with Jesus. Meno is the greek there, and it means, simply, to remain. To stay. Richard Swanson says : you realise that just means sit there, right? Sit. With Jesus. Presence. Attentiveness. Communion. Stillness. Recall Psalm 23 from last week.

Stay with Jesus.

This becomes a foundation for faithfulness to Jesus, a faithfulness that is shown through our love for God and each other.

I feel like the sense of abiding in Jesus as Jesus abides in us, the branches connected to the vine, is a flow of life blood through the vine and if one is truly, fully, attentively, in Jesus – because you’ve stayed put rather than rushing about trying to save yourself, do it all yourself – if we are that deeply connected then that life blood flows through us from Jesus, and then, your instinct is to love; love is your automatic response, because you are in Jesus, therefore you are in God, therefore you are in Love.

Which brings us to the letter from John – God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them. Those who remain with love, who stay with love. Choose to love, and you’ll be where God is. Choose to be where God is, and you will find your way to love.

I am reminded of the story of a Scottish saint, a story of one who stayed with God. St Magnus of Orkney was so committed to the way of God as a way of peace and love that he did not fight, though he was commanded to serve on his king’s ships. He was so committed to God’s way of love and peace, that when conflict arose between his followers and those of his cousin, with whom he had inherited the ruling of the Orkney islands, Magnus chose to meet with Haaken and offered to leave the islands and go into exile. When his cousin refused that offer, rather than fight Haaken to the death to determine one king of Orkney, he volunteered to be executed by Haaken, so that the conflict would end, and peace would return to their home. My version of the story begins: on a cold stone chapel floor – I begin with Magnus praying. It was from his residence within the presence of God that Magnus met his cousin, seeing him with love though fear and distrust met him in return. Magnus resided, abided, remained, with God, to the point of giving his life rather than turning away from love. Remind you of anyone?

And who is it we are meant to love, with this love that flows from the strength of the vine’s core through its healthy branches?

In Acts we hear of the eunuch and Philip. In the time this story originates, the eunuch is the epitome of the outsider for the hearers of the story. He is not Jewish. He is not fully human in the eyes of society, no matter now rich or high in status, as this eunuch is in the ethopian court.

From Bill Loader:

While some biblical traditions preserve legislation which excluded them from holy places (Deut 23:1), there are others which held out the prospect that one day they along with foreigners could belong (Isa 56:3-5). Jesus declared that some of us make ourselves eunuchs for the kingdom of God (Matt 19:10-12), and may well have been defending himself against accusations that he did not marry and instead embarked on mission. It was typical for him to identify himself with the marginalised. Luke has probably chosen this story with the hope of Isaiah in mind, rather than the exclusion of Deuteronomy. The gospel is reaching out beyond Jerusalem and Judea to the uttermost ends of the earth - at least as they saw it. This eunuch was most likely a foreigner who had been attracted to Judaism. He may have had other business, but seems to have intentionally travelled to the temple to worship. The story also assumes he possesses a scroll of Isaiah. Not many people did, so this may reflect a level of prosperity. The fact that he could read it also suggests literacy.

We hear that Philip is prompted by the Spirit – can you remember your own feeling, when you have been attentively abiding in God, and God’s love has flowed through you – I imagine that is how it felt for Philip, that rush of compassion as in the stories of Jesus whose guts wrenched when encountering someone yearning for love, desperate to be met by God, by hope, by welcome for their humanity.

Who are the eunuchs of our time? The ones society deems less than human? They may even be in positions of some power, wealth, status.

For example, I wonder if our viewing of people like ‘politicians’ as less than human lowers our expectations, and theirs, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? What would it be like to meet politicians with kindness, to speak of them as we would speak of our loved ones? What might love do then, to bring about changes, plant seeds for future change?

Who are we called to love, and how?

We might call to mind a more modern day saint, Mother Teresa, for whom prayer was a deep attentiveness, a mutual listening, - she once replied to an interviewer’s question about what she does in prayer – mostly I just listen. The interviewer asked, and what does God say? Mostly God just listens, too. This is abiding, remaining, simply sitting there with God, and from that abiding, that attentive remaining there with God, what love flowed through that woman? It was simple, and one of the most profound witnesses to God and to love and to the dignity of every human being that the world has seen in recent times, or perhaps ever.

Who is it for you?

Where have you seen it in your own life? When have you known discipline in your spiritual practices and seen your responses, your choices, your relationships shaped by love?

Again from Bill Loader:
Luke's story allows a reading which sees something magical in the sudden disappearance of Philip, but it may not have been intended in that way. Off went the eunuch. Off went Philip. We hear what Philip did, but not what the eunuch did. There is a major Christian church in Ethiopia still today which traces its roots to this event, a legend of origins. Small apparently insignificant chance encounters filled with the Spirit of love can change the course of history. It is like water in the desert. Watch for what might grow. Our task is not to make the magic moments - only history will tell us what they are - but simply to be attuned to love and sing its song.
Because fruit contains within it seeds for more fruit, for taking the vine further

Love bears fruit of love which bears fruit of love which bears fruit …

So that in battlefields and orphanages, in parliaments and newspaper offices, places where the humanity of humans is ignored, dismissed, diminished, humans will find the courage to stay with love rather than give in to fear, even if it costs them all they have to give.

The author of Acts depicts the first apostles as putting the emphasis on Jesus' life and on his death as rejection which God reversed and on the basis of which Jesus' message of forgiveness could now be proclaimed with confidence to all. Luke leaves us to read between the lines about what Philip might have said to the eunuch.

Because when you abide, when you remain, in love, in God, you see with love, you see with God, and that is to see the other as worthy, as having inherent dignity: to see others as beloved. And what can you do then but love, with the costly, generous, courageous love that flows from Christ the vine through these branches that remain?

Provoking the Gospel, Richard Swanson:

Lectionary Resources, William Loader:

Monday, 2 April 2018

Emerging into new life. What sort of prayer will you be?

Easter Day – Wesley Uniting Church 
1 April 2018

This week, even as we gave ourselves fully to Holy Week’s sorrow and the story of Jesus’ death, Ockert and I each had part of our minds on the resurrection. That is our experience of Lent as a church, isn’t it, we know how the story ‘ends’.

I have started reading a poem a day at breakfast, and one morning this week, with that part of my mind on resurrection particularly alert, this was the poem I read.

First Happenings. by Mary Oliver. [not reproduced online in full]

A morning-glory morning with its usual glory,
 petunias in the garden flashing their
tender signals of gratitude. ...
the sweet alyssum nod to
the roses who so very politely nod back.

... the fluttering petals, little
fires. Each one fresh and almost but not quite

Consider wearing such a satisfying body!
Consider being, with your entire self, such
a quiet prayer!

Consider being, with your entire self, such a quiet prayer! Like the flowers in the garden, we are coming to life, to new life, as people of the resurrection, people of this relationship with God through Christ, emerging from the story of Lent into the story of Easter.

What flower are you, as you unfold into your new life?
What kind of prayer will you be?

Like me, you may not be so well versed in all the finite properties of particular flowers – the often blooming, the long lasting, the rare, the winter, the autumn …

So let’s think simply. What colour flower will you be? Are you bold and bright? Are you pastel? Are you white?
What shape will you be? Round, oval, spiky; will you have a flurry of petals, or a few? Many buds to a stalk, or only one?
What size will you be? Low to the ground and petite; tall and singular; broad and wide on a bush or ground cover; high on a tree?
Will you have leaves? Grey, silver, some shad of green?

Can you see your flower? What sort of prayer does it seem to be?
What sort of prayer will your life be?

Mary Oliver’s poem evoked for me a picture of a garden of diverse prayers. Of life unfurling in response to the sun, life that is pure gratitude for the very gift of being alive. I saw Mary, unfurling back towards life, as she encountered the resurrected Christ.

Now, every flower knows death and dying; some experience drought or flood, frost or fire; weeds may strangle, pests and sickness can harm them. So we know that this garden is not a place of idealized perfection. Resurrection life is not idealized perfection.

We know, too, that our living is not without death of one kind or another. During this season of Lent, we have together explored the questions of death – Jesus’ death through the bible study, our own through the discussion evenings. We have named our reluctance to talk about death in many of our cultural contexts. We have considered the confronting situations in which people may choose to end this life we have on earth. Our Lenten discussion series brought us to life, as it took us into the shadows, shone light in the dark corners we try to ignore.

But there is an inherent mystery to this life, to resurrected life, the life beyond what we know here on earth. And many of our questions remain unanswered.

Do you know of Professor Brian Cox? He’s a scientist who presents tv shows, among other things. I came across a show he was doing recently, in which he was posing the question: what is life? He began in a village in the Philippines, with people celebrating their ancestors in a ritual or festival of the dead, to which I came late and missed exactly what it was. But with people carrying candles through a cemetery all around him, Cox posed the question of spirit, acknowledging the many different ways in which human cultures have given expression to our sense of the beyond, the something more, the mysterious spark of life that may not in fact be wholly contained in this mortal flesh.

Cox returned to science and to matter, identifying in the protons at the heart of all matter the spark for all life – though he really didn’t say where that spark came from. He talked about the magical quality of energy, which is not created, nor is it diminished, it simply is, and gets transferred from one thing to another. The magical quality of energy is that it is eternal. But where does energy itself come from?

As I watched I thought of God as that energy. That’s the story that shapes my understanding of things: God is the spark of life, the source of life, the beginning of it all. We talk often of God as eternal. What if we were to say God is the eternal, the energy in all life that rebounds from one thing to another, never diminishing, unable to be created because it already is.  ?

I love the details science can give us of the wonderful creation of which we are a part. But I also love the mystery, and am content to sit back in awe and let the mystery simply be.

Perhaps that’s the poet in me, I don’t know. Poets do tend to suggest, describe the mystery without trying to define it, use the figurative rather than the literal, or the literal to say more, to say something of the unspeakable mysteries.

What about our poem from Mary Oliver then? If we were to pose the question to that poem, what is life, what would that poem say? Life is a prayer. Life is a flower (and remember you are a flower today), a flower reaching for the sun in response to its call, unfurling and with all of its being, being a prayer.

So what if we, with all of our being, were prayers? What might that look like as the energy we receive from the Eternal rebounding as energy from us?

If prayer is communion with God, and as living prayers we are therefore in communion with God, then our living is profoundly shaped by that communion with God. What does that look like? Well what was Jesus’ life like – for he lived in deep communion with God? Our lives would be peace-making, kind, compassionate, just, fiercely loyal to God’s way of love, pouring ourselves out for the sake of each other – are you as excited as I am by the idea of life lived like that? It is enticing; it is, itself, a life giving way of life, is it not? Because you’ve seen what hope compassion brings, how love heals: we have experienced this positive energy rebounding, transferring from one to another, never diminished, always sparking life …

And what if we, together, were a garden of flowers, a garden of prayers – what might the world receive from us then?

Do you have a garden? Do you go into your garden for peace, joy, sometimes to work hard in order to nourish life?

Do you go to the Botanic gardens to walk, to breathe, to learn, to delight in the beauty you find there?

What does our life together, the church as a prayer garden look like?

Simple and quiet, calm and sure of itself. We live the resurrection, living in the confidence of God’s ‘yes’, God’s love. We trust in life beyond, participate in God’s kingdom here already; we are counter-cultural, resisting self-promotion, trusting in God, nurturing life.

Busy and diverse, each flower feeding and fed by the others. Each one unique, not quite replicable, we nod to each other with respect, making space for each other to flourish. Our prayers are active, we speak up for the dignity of others, give of ourselves to comfort, encourage, support one another.

Pointing towards the sun, drinking in the rain, sinking roots deep into the earth. We flash our tender signals of gratitude. We gather to worship God, bearing witness to God’s presence; we pray, we study, we discuss our ideas about God and listen for the Spirit.

Realistic and honest in our embrace of death as part of the cycle of life. We drop our seeds, our petals, our leaves, parts of ourselves given in order to grow new life. And our rituals guide us, our honesty and courage help us to grieve and to heal.

The psalms sing of such a way of being, of life lived in communion with God. As we heard from Ps 118 today, the psalmist sings, I have life, and with that life I will tell the story of God, the source of my life. I will be a prayer.

In the Gospel narrative, in the beloved disciple’s uncomprehending, faithful belief, and in Mary’s sigh of relief and return to life, we see two more whose actions say I have life, and with that life I will be a prayer to God.

God’s resurrection of Jesus
is a yes to the life
he lived, the love he gave,
the sacrifice he made –
God’s own self-giving
to enter humanity
to shed God’s own blood
to bring to life again
all that has been given life
by Divine self-giving:
God the Eternal,
the energy pulsing through

The whole Jesus event –
the life, death, resurrection
of Jesus is one more
in a continual series of yes
responses to the life God
creates, the yes we choose to hear
and live into.

So listen, and hear, today as we
celebrate the resurrection of Christ,
which is the Divine yes to life,
God’s yes – and turn like Mary,
turn like a flower towards the sun,
 turn towards the source of life
and feel your heart burst, your
breath quicken; feel yourself
come back to life and let’s join together
to grow a garden of diverse,
prayers to God with our living.


Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Integrity: it needs to go further than the cricket pitch

This week in Australia the media has been flooded with  disappointment in the Australian Cricket team, and especially its leaders. Tampering with the ball, along with some questionable sportsmanship earlier in the series from various players - where is their integrity, we want to know? Where is their respect for the spirit of the game?

This weekend the media has been remarkably absent from the raising of voices that happened in Palm Sunday rallies across the country. The Australian people calling for greater integrity from our nation's leaders on the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

This week, I am left wondering. Why is it that we (and by we, I mean the media, the ones who tell our story) are quick to express our disappointment in our sports people, yet seem unwilling to call the politicians to account? Do we expect more of our sports stars, our cricketers especially with its hallowed 'spirit of the game', than we do of our political leaders? Have we come to expect nothing less of our Prime Minister than to act without human integrity?

I wonder how the politicians are feeling? Do they want to be remembered for cowardice and cruelty? Surely one would want to be remembered for courage and conviction, for saving lives and protecting the vulnerable?

I wonder how the media folk feel? Do they want to be remembered for peddling fear, or for telling stories that move their audience to greater compassion? Surely one would want to be remembered for gathering the community together to work for justice on a larger scale than on the cricket pitch?

I wonder how we feel? Do we not expect more of ourselves? Are we really content to feed ourselves on the media's diet of building heroes and pulling them down, of fuelling fear ...

In a week in which we (we, the Christian community) remember the courage and conviction of Jesus, who would not give in to fear, who would not turn his back on God's way of love and peace, we must hear in this story a call and a challenge to do more, to be more, to expect more. We must expect as much integrity from our Prime Minister as we do from our cricket captain. We must expect more integrity from those who tell our stories. We must expect more from ourselves.

I am so grateful for the many from our Christian community who joined with those in the wider community who have lifted their voices to give expression to these expectations in those rallies across the country. Thank you.