Beauty for ashes

I am not and alas, probably never will be, a linguist. I  do try whenever we travel, to learn a few basic words in the language of the people we are living amongst. Thank you, being the most important word. . ευχαριστώ – ef̱charistó̱
in Greek. I must have said it ten or twenty times a day, these last couple of weeks.

A regular reminder of living life with eucharisteo at the centre. Whilst re- examining the Eucharist at college, theologically and spiritually, (see ‘bringing love where love was absent’)  I stumbled upon a book that I am still being formed by.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp was one of those books. A book that shook me, shaped me and challenged me to my core.

A mother of 6 and a farmer’s wife, Ann writes poetically of her journey towards the spiritual secret of thankfulness. Receiving everything from God’s hands with thankfulness. The good, the bad and the ugly. She does not gloss over heartache, brokenness and pain, but learns to find ‘the treasures of darkness’ amidst it all. Her journey was not a new one to me, but the way that she expressed it, spoke to deep places in me and connected.

‘”And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 22:19 NIV)
I thumb, run my finger across the pages of the heavy and thick books bound. I read it slowly. In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.
I underline it on the page. Can it lay a sure foundation under a life? Offer the fullest life?
The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.” Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift, and gave thanks.
But there is more, and I read it. Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelops the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.” Joy. Ah … yes. I might be needing me some of that. That might be what the quest for more is all about- that which Augustine claimed, “Without exception… All try their hardest to reach the same goal, that is, joy.”  

I breathe deep, like a soujourner finally coming home. That has always been the goal of the fullest life- joy. And my life knew exactly how elusive that slippery three- letter word, joy, can be. “
… I longed for more life, for more holy joy. That is what I was struggling out of nightmares to reach, to seize. Joy. But where can I seize this holy grail of joy? I look back down to the page. What was this clue to the quest of all most important? Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo– the table of thanksgiving. I sit there long… Wondering .. Is it that simple?
……eucharisteo, the Greek word with the hard meaning and harder meaning to live- this is the only way from empty to full. ‘  (From Chapter 2, a word to live..and die by of One Thousand Gifts.)

Holidays. Time apart, to mull and ponder. To breathe. To wonder.

Santorini is an island that has literally risen from its own ashes. Always an island of intense beauty (an ancient Phoenician name for it is Kalliste meaning ‘ most beautiful’), it is, nevertheless, beauty born of fire.

volcano

It has a moulten volcanic heart, that is still active. Over 3000 years ago, it was peopled by sophisticated Minoans, who lived in 2/3 storey, elaborately frescoed houses, with piped water and plumbed sewerage systems , to name but a few of their accomplishments. They prized beauty, art, and sport, and traded far and wide. Their seemingly idyllic existence (there is allot of speculation from some scientific & other communities that it may have been the fabled, lost Atlantis, as described by Plato) came to an abrupt end.

After a series of earthquakes, the volcano blew in a cataclysmic explosion that was off the end of the scale of those in recorded history. The centre of the island collapsed into the depths of the sea, leaving a caldera of 1000 ft high cliffs towering over the Aegean Sea that now fills what was once the heart of a round island.

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The land that was left, was covered metres and metres deep in volcanic ash. Unlike Pompeii, 1500 yrs later, there were no bodies left behind. The partially uncovered port city of Akrotiri, is a ghost town. Its citizens left it seems, in the nick of time, taking everything of value with them.

Akatiri
That could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. The Phoenicians found it, several centuries later and re- peopled it. The ‘most beautiful island’ was a very different form and shape, but it was just as beautiful.
Beauty for ashes.

Isaiah 61:2-3 NIV
 … to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. …

The island has reinvented itself many times since then, and the wind, and the fire of the volcano are still re- shaping it.

Pumice cliffs

Visiting this island has been a timely gift, ευχαριστώ – ef̱charistó̱ . A feast of beauty, that has fed my spirit. I have had necessary time away to process, in particular, the most recent ‘becoming’ – my ordination as a priest.

I trembled under the hands that ordained me. Like the tremors of an earthquake, I felt the ground beneath my spiritual feet shifting.

In my experience, when God is at work – it isn’t always comfortable!
In fact, it rarely is.
The book that I took on pre-ordination retreat with me,                                                 Spirituality and the Awakening Self, The Sacred Journey of Transformation, by David G. Benner PhD, speaks of this type of experience.

” It is possible to experience a profound reorganisation of the very foundations of our identity, values, meaning, and consciousness. It is possible for our whole perspective on life- on ourself, on others, and on God to shift dramatically.” Everything becomes fluid or molten. Scary stuff.

I have quoted the following poem before, in Light in the Cracks. It expresses this same thought, beautifully. (The author’s own explanation of the poem is included in that post)

This Room by Imtiaz Dharker

This room is breaking out
of itself, cracking through
its own walls
in search of space, light,
 empty air.The bed is lifting out of
its nightmares.
From dark corners, chairs
are rising up to crash through clouds.
 This is the time and place
to be alive:
when the daily furniture of our lives
stirs, when the improbable arrives.
Pots and pans bang together   
in celebration, clang
past the crowd of garlic, onions, spices,
fly by the ceiling fan.
No one is looking for the door.
In all this excitement I’m wondering where
I’ve left my feet, and why
my hands are outside, clapping.
 

SkyFall. The words of the theme song to the latest Bond film, sung by Adele, keep repeating themselves in my head. I can’t quite make out its meaning, or even it’s connection with the film, but it could have been written for Santorini on the day that the sky did, indeed fall.

I read about those long ago Minoans and my imagination travels with them. Feeling those first temors. Then more. Gathering up their lives, and sailing far from all that was familiar and known.

“This is the end
Hold your breath and count to ten
Feel the earth move and then
Hear my heart burst again

Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together”

A later verse connects on a deeper level, yet.

“Where you go, I go
What you see, I see
I know I’d never be me
Without the security
Of your loving arms
Keeping me from harm
Put your hand in my hand
And we’ll stand”

Shifting paradigms. Moving further into the unknown, on this journey of becoming.             I may not know where I am headed or have any idea of the shape God is forming me into, but I know that I am surrounded by His love. That he stands with me, and will help me face whatever that process of transformation involves.

Eucharisteo. Gift. Grace. Thanksgiving, even when the sky falls.

Becoming a priest allows you the immense privilege of presiding at the Eucharist.                 The heart and centre of faith and encounter.

A mystery, about which the more I know, the less I know.
The book I took on holiday with me is called Take this Bread: A radical Conversion, by Sara Miles
I think I thought it would be an easy read.                                                                                      God, however, had other ideas. Another of those books. (do you ever wish God would let up on you?)

Back to the meaning of eucharisteo. Becoming broken bread, and poured out wine.

bread and wine

I will have to let God continue his challenges to me with that one, and perhaps blog further about it, when the dust settles…

In the meantime you might want to read any of the three books I have mentioned, yourself. If you dare.

They come with an earthquake warning.

Called by name

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Somewhere, under those very many, outstretched hands, is me.

It is a picture of the moment of my ordination as a priest in the Anglican Church. Under those hands, I was trembling like a leaf. A precious, holy moment, that I will never forget for the rest of my life. It still makes me tremble to look at the photo and remember. I hope it always does.

The next day, I was given another awe-filled, humbling privilege. I presided at the Eucharist for the very first time in the church in which I serve. It was an immensely moving occasion. I had been given leave to put the liturgy, readings and music together, and friends and family all took part. My husband, who is a Reader, preached. His words last Sunday morning, are what follows.

eucharist

“The gifts he gives are that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, some teachers, (why?) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11

A few years ago the driving test had an additional part added to the theory test, referred to as hazard perception, the skill to look ahead and see what might happen in order to take avoiding action…

I think I may fail this test.
A few years ago now, I married a gorgeous nurse, who became a midwife, and then a mother, and then a palliative care nurse, but (as we have sometimes joked with each other,) we certainly didn’t see this one coming all those years ago!

And yet, it has always been the desire of both of us, to serve God in whatever way He wanted us to do. It can be quite scary to abandon ourselves completely to God’s will.

Yesterday Ruth reached a mile stone on the journey. A most significant moment in time- the end of a long journey, the fulfilment of a calling, but just the beginning of another journey, whose route and course has yet to be revealed. However, we do know that He who has called, is faithful and true, and will see this through to completion.

Today we celebrate with her, as she for the first time, stands as God’s representative to consecrate bread and wine into Holy Gifts of Christ’s body and blood, and shares these spiritual gifts with us. She will then stand as his representative in calling God’s blessing onto us.

Ruth choose the readings today very carefully, as they reflect her journey, and as you can see there is a clear link and theme between them.

Jeremiah 1: 4-9

Jeremiah’s Call and Commission

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’

Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,

‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,

‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.

Psalm 139 : 13-18

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
    My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.
Ephesians 4: 11-16

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Mark 9: 33-37

Who Is the Greatest?

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

But as we look at these more closely, I want us all to realise and take on board that what I am about to say applies to us all. Some have been called to the priesthood, some to a whole variety of other things. It is important for each of us to seek and know, that we are fulfilling that to which we have been called, as ALL HAVE BEEN CALLED.

The first two readings could be summarised in the following words;
known, formed, called, consecrated, (set apart), prepared, anointed (equipped).

Ruth has shared with me the sense she has of knowing this was what she was meant to be. God has known this, and of course known her, from before she came into being. Her life to this point has been a time of preparation, walking along a prepared path, right and fulfilling , but points on a road, and not the destination.

path-2

Like any journey, some bits are easy going and some are very tough, and we want to give up, we get major set backs, we doubt, we want to turn back to safety and security.
What is important for us to know, is that this journey for any of us is not unaccompanied. God is with us, beside us and like that poem ‘Footsteps,’ sometimes we are carried, but don’t know it.

The calling of Jeremiah, also shows us how none of us can do anything without the anointing and empowering of God the Holy Spirit, any of us who preach will tell you that almost every time we get up to preach we ask
“What am I doing? Who am I, to be standing before God’s people and preaching?

And the answer is always very clear.
“Because I have called you and anointed you to preach my words, I have put my words in your mouth”

The problem of calling is that we all have choice. we can choose to accept that calling, but of course we can say also say no. The ‘no’ maybe for all sorts of reasons- we only need to look at Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah to name but three, who wriggled and wrestled said “I can’t do that, sent someone else”
There can be a host of reasons why any of us may turn away from our true calling and purpose.

Lets go back to preparation, what I referred to previously as ‘the journey’. This can be long, hard and frustrating. I promised to not to say how old Ruth is, but the journey has been..shall we say, a while…
Was the time before this, wasted? Absolutely not. It was all part of preparation and all part of the priest that is now with us.
I was struck forcibly by the screamingly obvious point, that Jesus, the Son of God waited for thirty years before his ministry started.

What was going on in his life during those years? We know very little, other than a few glimpses- a twelve year old in the temple, for example, but we can be sure he was being prepared for the right time, of what was to be a very short ministry. Clergy often say how brief a curacy is, ‘what can you do in three years?’
Well, Jesus did quite a lot!
Known….formed…..set apart(consecrated)….called(choice)……prepared…..anointed (equipped)

Then comes two more highly significant points. The disciples were arguing about who was the greatest.. you know the sort of thing.. “Is it the Rector, or the Archdeacon or ..perhaps the Bishop? ”

Jesus makes this profound statement, which was the foundation of the Kingdom, an upside down principle of power and authority.

Whoever wants to be first, must be last of all, and the servant of all.
The servant King who was the Son of God, yet  he washed his disciples feet, the job of the lowliest servant.

The call to service in God’s kingdom must surely be that of being the servant of all.    The greatest is the least.

baby hand

To come back to where I started, in the reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus…

As a doctor I have always loved Paul’s illustration of the body. We all, as individuals makes up the body of Christ, and like the human body all the different bits have different functions, but all are important for the health and function of the body.

I have always had a little chuckle at the arrogance of doctors, I was taught at medical school that the tonsils had no function, along with adenoids and appendixes for that matter, yet we now know they serve an invaluable role in teaching the immune systems to respond to a raft of infections, and the body, whilst it can function without them, is not quite as good as it was with them.

I have realised every bit of the human body is important, however small and seemingly insignificant, and if we don’t know what it does, it’s only because we haven’t found out yet. So it is with the church.

Every bit of the body has a function and purpose, and plays a part in the whole, and it is no good trying to be a different part of the body. Imagine if the ears suddenly thought ‘we would like to be toes’. We would have a lot of trouble walking, let alone trying to hear when we had shoes and socks on!

So, God has given that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, some teachers. This list is,of course, for illustration and is not exhaustive.

As we celebrate Ruth reaching this fulfilment of calling, and the beginning of the next part of the journey, let us all ask ourselves and ask God:

For what purpose have I been known, formed, set apart, called, prepared and equipped? And where on that journey am I ? Do I have no idea why I have been formed? Do I think so little of myself that I can’t see God has any purpose for me?
Have I been called, but not responded?

What I am sure of, is all have been called, not all have responded, and all of us are still a ‘work in progress’ .

Are we ready to seek God, for our calling? Are we ready to be called off the road we are on, onto a completely different one? Or are we ready to stay on the road we are on, even if we don’t want to be on it?

The body has many parts, some seem to be more prominent and important than others but ALL parts are essential for health and proper function of the body of Christ.

As Paul says, this calling is to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Today we celebrate Ruth’s journey from beginning to now, watched over throughout by her (and our) loving Heavenly Father. We commit her to God, continuing that journey with her, knowing He is faithful and true.

Let us also pause and consider our own journeys and our own calling, and listen together as a body, the body of Christ.

‘It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are, the privilege of a lifetime is being who you really are.’ E.E. Cummings

I pray that our prayer today would be;

Lord here I am, wholly available to you. Take me and use me as you choose, for your purpose and for building up your kingdom, as I find and function in my place as a part of the whole body.
Let me always be a servant of all.

Only by the Grace

I read a quote in a recent tweet that said ‘Writing is easy. Sit down at a keyboard and open a vein ..’  it hit an instant chord, as I have often known the truth of that, but never more than with this blog post. Writing does sometimes feel like giving your life blood. The 1st of August- one month exactly since I was ordained, and although I have tried before, it has taken me until now to be able to stand back from that day enough to put some elements of it into words. A day like no other in my life to date, which I am still absorbing.

I woke early, with a feeling not dissimilar to the morning I got married. Butterflies of excitement, tinged with nerves. Such a big day, on so many levels.

It was a beautiful morning, and I stepped outside for a few moments of solitude, with just the sheep for company. The retreat house is situated in a very rural setting, in a beautiful secluded valley. The pastoral imagery of sheep/shepherd and the dual call to lead and yet always to follow, had been a very present one over the course of the retreat.  In the silence following morning prayer, the only sound was the distant bleat of lambs.

Know that the Lord is God. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture”                        ” Feed my sheep” Psalm 100 

A smooth 40 minute drive to the cathedral. I don’t remember much of what I was thinking, apart from being conscious of being in public in my collar, for the first time.  My emotions were very close to the surface, so it was much more about feeling, than thinking.

Some waiting, and then the solemn legal parts of the process, prior to lining up to process from the Bishop’s Palace to the Cathedral. The last few steps of a long, long journey, I would be stepping out of the cathedral at the start of the next.  The congregation were mostly a blur of faces, although I caught sight of a friend and her little girl as I started to process up the aisle, which delighted me, and grounded what was happening in the context of lots of dear people I love and who have shared this journey with me, being here to cheer me on.

I didn’t know where my family were seated (they had ticketed seats in a reserved row) but it was only about ten minutes into the service that I spotted them. Another jolt of emotion.

The service is a solemn one with a variety of symbolic components to it.  We were called forward by name. Presented by our Archdeacons commending us to be ordained. In my case the Archdeacon had been my attachment incumbent of most of my training, and a good friend, adding an extra dimension to the process. I had done a placement in the cathedral the previous year, and loved every minute of it, falling in love with the ancient building, and making lasting friendships amongst the whole variety of people who make up the cathedral’s staff. It had become a ‘home from home’, and being ordained in this second spiritual home was a deep joy.

The sermon was given by Revd Dr Alison Morgan, author of The Wild Gospel and A Word on The Wind: Renewing Confidence in the Gospel, who had led our retreat. She did an excellent job explaining to our families and friends something of this crazy calling God was asking of us.

Then the moment itself. Called forward again to be charged with the solemn task and role to which we were called, and asked to make a series of vows, to which we answered ” By the help of God, I will” . Something echoed by the Bishop in his next words :

In the name of our Lord, we bid you remember the greatness of the the trust in which you are now to share: the ministry of Christ itself, who for our sake took the form of a servant.. You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God.

Words that need to be kept constantly in mind, as I step out on this new journey.

We then knelt  around the altar for about ten minutes of prayers, sung and said, before the Bishop came to each of us to lay his hand on our heads and confer ordination as Deacons upon  us.  Although kneeling in public, for those ten minutes it was just God and me, I was largely oblivious of anyone else.  The Bishop’s hands felt very heavy on my head as he prayed for the Holy Spirit to equip me for the work He was calling me to do.  Our incumbents stepped forwards to vest us in our stoles across our Left shoulders symbolic of our Deacon status, as servants of God and His Church.

The Ordination service is set within the context of a Eucharist and during the sharing of The Peace we had the first opportunity to greet family and friends. A deeply moving moment accompanied by many tearful hugs.

Coming out of the service was a surge of joy, greeting so many lovely folk who had come from far and wide to support me. It was overwhelming, and the day continued in a similar way as we gathered in my sending church for a celebration lunch. I couldn’t stop smiling. After all the solemn intensity, I felt like I was floating on air, with a heart brimful of thankfulness.

As a tiny child I sang an old chorus, picking up the words of a psalm, ‘ My cup is full and running over’ ,  little did I know then how full my cup would be filled, or why.

Between worlds

Leaving people and places is hard. No matter how many times I have done it, (and that would be allot) it doesn’t get any easier. When you throw your self in deep, as I tend to do, you give away your heart. When it is time to go, extricating that same heart is impossible without leaving pieces of it behind. It is a tearing process.

 Two years at theological college have come to an end. I have written about Liminal Spaces and Transitions before, and pointed out that the word liminal means threshold. The journey towards ordination is full of liminal spaces, so I ought to be used to it by now. In the early stages of exploring vocation you are mostly on your own, reflecting with professional guides, turning over the stones of your life thus far, with the timing and direction of your future, firmly in other’s hands. It can be a lonely journey. Coming to theological college is yet a different sort of liminality. This time it is shared by a close community of others, all going through a similar set of experiences. The courses and placements vary of course, but living and praying together, sharing the academic and formational pressures brings a special sort of bond. An understanding at deep levels.    The college community was from a wide range of backgrounds, ages and eccelesiology , which adds hugely to the rich experience, but also adds challenges, as we all have a part of shaping each other’s lives, consciously or unconsciously. Not everyone experiences living in community as a positive experience, but my gregarious, extravert nature loved it. I learnt as much, if not more, from my fellow students than I did from my tutors, books or courses, stretching and growing me as a person. Precious memories. Precious people, for whom I am very thankful. The friendships I have made, I will take with me of course, but the unique community I was a part of for two years, is no more. Even now, new students are packing up their lives, preparing to move and wondering nervously what might lie ahead. These, and the students whose courses mean that they will remain studying for the next year or two, will form a new community which will inevitably have a different shape and feel.

The leave taking was done beautifully and symbolically within the rich context of a EucharistEucharisteo = thanksgiving. The stoles with which we will be ordained in a week’s time were laid on the altar and blessed, then given to us by our personal tutors. The liturgy was creatively put together by students. We were given a book and a glazed pottery cross  (shown above), made by a skilled fellow student. (the heart was received at the Federation Commendation service earlier that week).  We were prayed for and then processed out from church to college. It was an immensely moving service, and there were plenty of tears. I  cried through all of it, seeing these people and their families whose lives had been woven so deeply with mine. A good friend carried his newborn daughter with immense pride and joy, to receive communion/ blessing from the principal who was celebrating and my heart turned over. The service was followed by a wonderful party, enjoyed outside, on an unexpectedly dry and sunny evening (against all forecasts).

Leaving over, we were spun out country wide, into yet another liminal space of waiting. No longer an ordinand in training, and not yet a Deacon.  No longer part of the ‘old’ community and not yet a part of the new. I have moved to the benefice (group of churches) in which I will serve as curate, but it is not general practice to attend these churches prior to ordination. To extend and analogy I used in my last post, Stepping Stones, it is as if we are pushed off the last stepping stone into the cold water and have to swim and climb out onto the bank.  A spin cycle of emotions, combining with the exhaustion of  the efforts of recent weeks  to organise a move and finish academic work simultaneously, gives it a very strange feel. Looking forwards, looking backwards and trying to process it all.  The church wisely provides a time in which to do this. For four days before the ordination I will go into silent retreat, my family and friends not seeing/hearing from me until I appear in the cathedral procession at the start of the service.  I can’t predict how I shall be feeling at that point, but that my heart will be full, I have no doubt. Like my marriage, it is an intensely personal moment shared in a very formal setting and witnessed by family and friends. A moment of consecration and line crossing; of saying my YES to God publicly and symbolically.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are aquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it. 

Psalm 139 v.1-6  NRSV

“bringing love, where love is absent”

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a person who fascinates me. She scares some, and attracts others, but she rarely fails to have an impact. I have learnt so much by spending time with her, imaginatively. There are so many hidden depths to her character.  As probably a very young teenager, she faced a near impossible ask, and had to face the potential of losing her life, never mind her reputation, by her obedience.

She said Yes-

but suppose the answer had been NO?

and Heaven held it’s breath

as in that startled moment

a teenage lass

looked an angel in the face.

Cascades of questions

in tug of terror and of trust

as wide eyed in wonder

it dawned on her

the choice was hers

and hers alone.

Yet the choice was not to choose

to surrender choice itself

taking the gift

God gives with life and breath,

to lay it down.

Her Yes was all that she could give

took all she had

to hold the angel’s eye.

‘Let it be to

me as you have said’

and Heaven’s gate swung wide..

 

What a journey that nine months must have been!  It is for any woman, expecting a baby, but the emotional roller coaster Mary went on, from that Yes, to the moment she held her son in her arms, is almost beyond imagining. Facing possible stoning , certain divorce, and having to explain  the unexplainable. Spending time with her also-pregnant-in-miraculous-circumstances cousin, Elizabeth, and finally having someone understand, must have been a huge comfort and relief.

A  long, weary journey, at the height of pregnancy, is never recommended.     (trust me, I was a midwife, once upon a long time ago). A long weary journey with no accommodation provision, let alone medical cover- Mary didn’t even have a friendly face to greet her in Bethlehem. The labour and birth itself, scary to almost every first time mum, must have been a lonely, frightening experience. Then the precious, never, forgotten moment of holding her baby for the first time. This son, who had turned her life upside down.

Upside Down Miracles

Exhausted, yet wide awake,

my body spent, yet every nerve alive.

we one have become Two.

He who lately stirred in me, moved

more than limbs, whose spirit sang

with mine, filling my soul with wordless awe:

now like a lamb, lies in the straw.

God’s perfect lamb…that shepherds knelt to see.

my tiny lamb…so vulnerable

that I would hide him from the fears that lurk, and

what the future may require..

Who then is he, whose soft breath on my neck

nuzzles me close, and with his

fingers in mine, I wonder with a kiss

just who is holding who?

The poems above, are mine. Recently, I came across someone else who has spent time with Mary, and expressed their thoughts in poetry. Frances Croak Frank came up with an insight on Mary that took my breath away.

Did the woman say,

When she held him for the first time in the dark of a stable,

After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,

‘This is my body, this is my blood?’

 

Did the woman say,

When she held him for the last time in the dark rain on a hilltop,

After the pain and the bleeding and the dying,

‘This is my body, this is my blood?’

 

Well that she said it to him then,

For dry old men,

Brocaded robes belying barrenness

Ordain that she may not say it for him now.

Allot has been written on the priesthood of Mary, the Christ-Bearer, an angle I had never considered – and yet the association with the words  “This is my body, this is my blood” is so startlingly obvious, that I cannot believe I have never made the connection before.  The poem is about women in the priesthood, but this was not what primarily grabbed me.  Mary’s pain, watching her son die an agonising death, and then holding his lifeless body in her arms is unbearable.  When he was a tiny baby, being presented in the Temple, Simeon had told her that “a sword would pierce her heart” . Those words must have haunted her through the years, and I am sure would have played loudly in her head as they came true, before her heart-broken eyes. How do you begin to deal with something like that?

But deal she did, and her journey continued, round the awesome bend of meeting her resurrected son, come back from the dead. Scripture doesn’t describe that meeting, or even tell us that it happened- but I can’t imagine that it didn’t. That she wasn’t allowed that privilege, along with the disciples. What a moment that would have been! We find her next, with the gathered faithful in the upper room .

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

She will have received the Holy Spirit, though I imagine that the experience had a feeling of deja-vu, flames alighting on her head, small fry, compared to angels appearing with life- shattering news.

We hear no more of her by name, in Scripture, although tradition has her travelling to Ephesus with John,  ‘the disciple who Jesus loved’ and the one into whose care Jesus had  entrusted her.  Historians, Irenaeus and Eusebius of Caesarea, write of John ‘The Evangelist’ travelling there, which is probably the basis of the association.

When I was licensed an Anglican Reader, the preacher took Mary’s obedient Yes, as her subject and gave us each a postcard of The Walking Madonna – a bronze by Elizabeth Frink, which stands in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral.  She quoted the words below, which come from a sermon preached by Revd Professor Frances Young at the Easter dawn service in Salisbury.

In the Cathedral Close is the most potent symbol of resurrection – Elizabeth Frink’s Walking Madonna, striding forth to bring Christ into the world – not as the teenage Virgin, pregnant with the new humanity, but an older Mary, stripped down, thin and ascetic, stomach hollow, face pinched and haggard with suffering – one who has been through the experience of the Pieta and held the dead body of her son across her knee, but now is determined and invigorated with resurrection life – “walking with purposeful compassion as a member of the community of the Risen Christ, to bring love where love is absent.”

May we tread in her steps, filled with light and love and joy, for the Dayspring from on high has visited us, and Christ is risen – Alleluia. Amen.”

This week has been a very  hard one. I have known the heartbreak of Christ’s broken body in a very real way. The broken body of his church, that is.  A situation that was a microcosm of the global picture. It tore my heart to see it, be a part of it, and know how much more God’s heart must be breaking.  I also witnessed very large portions of Grace- shared like the bread broken for the multitudes. More than enough for all.

I experienced too, the most profound Eucharist I have ever had, in my whole life of faith. A simple service, where every line of liturgy and sermon was  imbued with grace, healing and forgiveness. I cried through the whole of it, and could barely swallow the gifts of Grace and undeserved Love, when they were given to me. They were too costly to take in, on any level.

This is my body, this is my blood” Mary knew the cost, as no one else could. Apart from the Father, that is. My prayer is that I can with her,  walk “with purposeful compassion as a member of the community of the Risen Christ, to bring love where love is absent.”