‘Talk is cheap’, they say, ‘but money buys the whisky’.

There are various forms of this adage. The earliest one written down is from P.T. Barnum the circus tycoon whose antics were recently told in the movie The Greatest Showman. He said, ‘Talk is cheap, until you hire a lawyer.’

Speaking of whisky and illusionists, if you have ever worked with an addict you will know just how cheap talk can be. Especially if the talk can buy whisky or any other addictive substance they need to survive. The cheapest talk from addicts are their words of apology that roll out so easily when they’ve been exposed in some dishonesty. Addicts regularly paint themselves into some corner by lies and deception in support of their habit. Usually the apology follows a standard form, “I am so sorry for the hurt I have caused”. Said with doleful face and cast down looks the words mean nothing and will be repeated just as easily next time the addict is cornered.

The most effective method ever devised for dealing with addiction, any addiction, are the Twelve Steps. This recovery map first used in Alcoholics Anonymous is now applied in almost any self help programme where people are trying to curb their destructive behaviour. When you examine the twelve steps surprisingly there is not a single mention of apologising. The word is never used. Not that addicts have nothing to apologise for either. If you have lived with an addict you know how much damage they can cause.

So why does AA not speak of apologising for the harm? Because recovery from addiction doesn’t happen by talking.
No significant change in behaviour or circumstances comes from cheap talk. A fact politicians and preachers know only too well. Talk changes nothing. What changes anything is action. So if you want to change, alter your behaviour and attitude.

Oh and by the way, don’t tell me, show me.

The twelve steps calls it making amends. It’s step nine of the twelve and right after, ‘We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.’ Having completed the list in step eight the person in recovery is reminded by the old timers who have gone before and who are now their sponsors how ‘We made direct amends to such people (we had harmed) wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.’

No cheap talk apology here. If you are serious about recovering from your destructive behaviour don’t apologise, make it right. Make amends. Fix what you broke.
Who can count the parents, spouses, children, employers, friends, and family repeatedly suffer the destructive effects of some deeply addicted person they care about? They pray, they care, they rescue, they enable and through it all the addict simply mouths some cheap apology whilst stealing their money to buy the whisky.

Recovery lies in making amends and not in apologising.

The power of the feminine to save. Even from Hell

We all enjoy a love story.

This one from medieval Italy is similar to a million others but is special because it happened to a great poet who recorded it in the most beautiful language. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is famous for writing the “Divine Comedy” which shaped Christianity’s ideas of heaven and hell forever.

He describes how he began to write the epic poem while he was walking along in the afternoon of his life and fell into a deep hole. There is no better description of the midlife crisis than going along with your life when suddenly you fall into a hole. These crises are usually about our unfinished business or unlived life. For Dante it was his incomplete relationship with Beatrice whom he had met when he was only nine. Years later as an adult Dante was standing near the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that crosses the Arno River in Florence when he saw Beatrice as an adult and fell deeply in love. Dante did not speak to her that day. In fact he saw her very little, and then Beatrice suddenly died, carried off by plague.

Dante was stricken with the loss of his vision. She was the intermediary between his soul and Heaven itself. Dante went on to marry, and he and Signora Alighieri raised three children. Then, suddenly, at the midpoint of his life, he fell into a deep depression. Here his work began.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante is led down through the nine levels of hell by the poet Virgil, symbol of reason and intellect. Dante discovers surprisingly that the lowest level of hell isn’t fire, it is frozen. That arctic wasteland the intellect will bring us to. So he leaves Virgil behind and is led out of hell by none other than his beloved Beatrice. The message is clear. The soul, not the intellect leads out of hell to heaven. The moist, soft feminine soul, not sterile male logic is the way to salvation. Love not reason saves Dante, and us all.

dante out of hell.jpg

Six hundred and fifty years later, during World War II, the Americans were chasing the German army up the Italian “boot.” The Germans were blowing up everything to thwart the progression of the American army, including the bridges across the Arno River. But no one wanted to blow up the Ponte Vecchio because Beatrice had stood on it and Dante had written about her.
So the German army made radio contact with the Americans and, in plain language, said they would leave the Ponte Vecchio intact if the Americans would promise not to use it.

The promise was held. The bridge was not blown up, and not one American solider or piece of equipment went across it. Crazy, isn’t it? Completely illogical. But life isn’t a rational story, it is a love story. Hardened warrior men were turned by creative feminine emotion. In a modern, ruthless war, the bridge was spared, because beautiful Beatrice had stood upon it.

(Many thanks to Robert A Johnson for the bulk of this from his Inner Gold)

Stress will kill you

South Africa is stressful. The Centre for Health Journalism reports the country has a high suicide rate, psychiatric illnesses are on the rise and stress has become normal.
Every day, an estimated 21 South Africans commit suicide and, according to experts, stress could be a significant contributing factor. Studies done by University of KwaZulu-Natal researcher Lourens Schlebusch, show an estimated 7 582 South Africans die by their own hand every year and 20 times that number attempt but fail to take their own lives. Marthé Viljoen from the South African Federation for Mental Health says new data suggests this is because South Africans have unusually high stress levels.
A recent study, conducted by international research company Bloomberg, ranked South Africa as the second “most stressed out” nation in the world, following Nigeria. El Salvador was ranked third.
Another study, conducted in 2014 by Ipsos Global and Reuters, showed that up to 53% of South Africa’s workforce do not take their allotted annual leave. “High stress levels have been linked to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and can also lead to substance abuse. In severe cases, these problems can lead to a person becoming suicidal,” says Viljoen.
Reflecting on the challenges of stress I have come up with six simple steps that can significantly reduce it. The steps can be remembered by using the word STRESS as a mnemonic.
STOP. There is no need for the frenetic pace at which we live. Marathon running taught me that it’s never the distance but always the pace that breaks you. If you are experiencing high stress levels it is important to structure stops in your day, your week, your year. Times when you cease and desist from business and do nothing for a while.
TIME. I remember as a child having a book called “Pastimes for Boys”. It showed simple crafts like carving soap figures and how to make cotton reel tractors. Ironically, now there is no time to pass! To destress requires an appreciation of time. Take time. Sit and watch the second hand of a clock sweep its face for five minutes. It will give you a sense of just how spacious time can be.
REFLECT. Once you have stopped and taken time, practice reflecting on your life. I find journaling is invaluable. Others sketch or doodle. Step back from the canvas of life and look at the whole journey. I call it the helicopter view.
EXERCISE. Walk, run, gym, stretch it doesn’t matter, but time off the chair is great to reduce stress. Remember sitting is the new smoking.
SLEEP. Shakespeare summed it up in Macbeth, “ Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, the death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, chief nourisher in life’s feast”. Every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after.
SENSE. Allow yourself to touch, taste, smell, see, and hear what brings joy and peace.
Stress isn’t worth dying for.

Do you want to be right, or be in a relationship? Matthew 5:21-37 Epiphany 6/ Ordinary 6

rulesMatthew 5:21-37

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

It was the present Dalai Lama who said““Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”  I also came across this Zen maxim, “First you learn the rules. Then you keep the rules. Then you break the rules. Then you are wise.”

This seems to be the gist of Jesus’ comments about the law in the gospel for this week. Those who have walked the path of Christ following for some time will know that the religion of the heart is not so much about the rules as it is about the relationship which the rules are intended to enhance anyway.

The problem with human nature though is we tend to swap the priorities around then that is where the hypocrisy begins.
We have all met people who prefer to be right and keep the rules, than be in relationship. They are usually shining saints, brightly burning but usually without a flicker of compassion.

If I read Jesus correctly, he is saying relationships are more important than rules.
Rules will lead you into and hell of minutiae and detail, but they will not deepen your humanity or your heart.

Rules will make you righteous, but relationships will make you real.
There’s no doubt that Jesus lived this truth.
Perhaps we could too?

Nest or Nets? Matthew 4:12–23 Epiphany 3A /Ordinary 3

nest3Matthew 4:12–23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

There is a poster in popular use to advertise retreats. The picture is usually of a single person in a solitary place, and the caption reads, “Sometimes you have to withdraw from the world to find your place in it.

If we read Matthew chapter 4 carefully we will see that it is a chapter of two withdrawals. The first is Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested. The second is a withdrawal anachoreo to Capernaum by Jesus when he hears that John the Baptiser has been arrested.

Anachoreo is an interesting word. It is the root of the word “anchorite” which describes hermits in general and later came to to specifically describe a form of religious life during the early and high middle ages. At this time men (anchorites) and women (anchoresses) withdrew from society and were cloistered away in cells (anchorholds) usually attached to churches.

In Britain the most famous Anchoress is undoubtedly Dame Julian of Norwich, whose record of the mystical “shewings” given her are recorded in her book “Revelations of Divine Love” which is still in print.

The anchorite was often walled into the anchorhold by the Bishop who at that time would conduct their funeral liturgy as they became dead to the world. The rest of their life would be spent walled in with one window, called a hagioscope or squint, open to the high altar of the church so that they could watch the mass. Another window opened to the street through which food and presumably excrement could be passed and also through which people could seek the counsel of the holy soul inside.

Life for Jesus, as for us, took some interesting turns, didn’t it? Driven by fear of persecution by Herod, in the wake of John’s arrest, Jesus anchorites it to Capernaum, possibly to live a life of solitude and prayer? But that is not to be. One day on a quiet stroll along the shoreline of lake Galilee, Jesus in introverted mode, happens upon some fishermen casting their nets.

I would like to think that there was something in the archetypal symbolism of those fish gathering nets that jarred Jesus out of his introverted seclusion into an extroverted invitation to those early followers to come and “fish for the lost people of the house of Israel and indeed the whole world”

Its as if the anchorite nest was converted that day into missionary nets.

In times of dread and threat, nothing seems more inviting than to wall ourselves off from life threatening humanity.

It is then that we have to balance the hermit and the helper, the monk and the missionary.

Jesus found his largest appeal in a desert country he ran to while trying to avoid his mission.

We will probably experience the same.

Whipped up enough to pour yourself out?- Narrative Lectionary John 2:13-25

John 2:13–25

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

Jesus the Jew goes to Jerusalem for a major religious festival. If you read the gospels regularly you will know that the editor of John’s gospel has put this report in a different place from the three synoptics which have it in the final fateful week of Jesus’ life.

It is an editors privilege to do so. As a newspaper columnist I know that editors place columns in strategic places for effect. If current editorial principles applied to the compilation of John’s gospel, it suggests that moving the story of the cleaning of the temple from a finale story to a initial story in the Jesus record gives it more importance. It is as if the editor is saying , “If you want to understand the story of Jesus you have to see him in the context of this temple confrontation” .

In a recently published book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”, inter-faith author Reza Aslan suggests that the Jesus of history was first and foremost a Jew, speaking to Jews, and attempting to reform and revolutionize oppressed Jewish political and religious reality in first century Palestine. Alsan argues that although we know precious little about Jesus, the fact that we do know that he was crucified tells us that he was executed for crimes against the Roman Empire. The Romans who learnt crucifixion from the Greeks who learnt it, via Alexander the Great, from the Persians; reserved it solely for punishing political enemies.
It is this Jesus, one messiah amongst many contemporary claimants at the time, who Aslan succeeds in re-introducing to his readers. A zealot whose zeal for the temple consumed him.

It is with this as background that I read the gospel narrative for this Sunday (in the Lutheran Narrative Lectionary)

Through this lens there are three aspects I would like to comment on as I bolded them in the text above:

  1. The Passover of the Jews was near…he found people selling…” Right there we have the confrontation of Jesus the devout Jew with the populist religion that his dear faith had become. It was then and still is now, prohibited for Orthodox Jews to trade during the Passover. The feast has as its deepest intention a memorial to the emancipation of Hapiru (slaves) from the tyranny of superpower Egypt. Yet here they were, centuries later, enslaved once more to superpower Rome, who used the temple rituals as part of their occupation strategy.
  2. Making a whip (phragellion) of cords, … He also poured out (ekcheo) the coins” Jesus the scourger with a whip, ends his life in the very temple he comes to cleanse and then in Pilate’s precinct, he is the one who is scourged. The action with the coins is even more interesting to me. The word ekcheo is used most in the New Testament in the book of Revelation where seven of the nine instances refer to the pouring out of the vials of judgement and wrath in the angels’ hands. Other usages in the New Testament refer to the spilling of blood or most graphically in Acts 1:18 to the gushing out of the ruptured bowels of Judas. There is something visceral here in the passion of Jesus for cleansing the temple. Again as with the flagellation, how ironic is it that his is the blood that is spilt? Blood money and sweating blood for money are the strange alchemical mixtures that curse our age and every age before us.
  3. “But he was speaking of the temple of his body”… It was Richard Rohr, who made me aware that a core contribution of Jesus’ teaching to the religious understanding of the planet is that Jesus taught that the sanctuary for divine/human encounter lies, not in external structures, sacrifices or symbolic acts, but rather Jesus understood and taught that the temple was an inner space. The kicker being that if the temple is within, then says Rohr, the only sacrifice that remains is my false self to the True Self. Jesus models this truth in his own life and body temple.

How may we continue to pour ourselves out zealously from the inner sanctuaries of our hearts to those who suffer in the structures of systemic oppression?

Cultivating Change – Lent 3C

Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

I keep meaning to look up the definition of procrastination, but I never seem to get round to it.
I really want to change, but Lent after Lent comes around and the same old issues, attitudes and addictions bedevil my development and growth in love.
As a columnist I know the power of deadlines. There is something about having to submit copy by Tuesday that sharpens my focus and gets me tapping away at the keys. I know that the deadline will not slow down it’s inexorable approach, so I had better get my act together and be ready for its arrival.
The gospel story of the martyred Galileans and those killed in the disastrous fall of the tower of Siloam, reflect that the dead did not have had any time to prepare for deaths.
According to this parable our lives have a deadline. The presence of a “dead”-line, (pun intended), should move us to fruitfulness in our lives. According to the story, the fruition of our life is not complicated. If you are a fig tree, produce figs. If you are a vine, grapes.
So often we fall into the trap of assuming that spirituality involves becoming who we inherently are not. That is not true. The Lord does not expect anything, except for us to fruitfully be who were created to be.
So let’s use this Lent to dig around the roots of our lives and prune ourselves into fruition. This may be our last opportunity.
Oh, one last thing, if you are wondering about where the manure comes from, remember Forrest Gump and his wise words, “Sh#t happens”. The failures and hurts of the past are the fecund compost of today.
Can you dig it?

“The old home town acts the same…”

Luke 4:21-30

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Whenever I read the gospels I have in the left back corner of my mind a monitor for the dreadful public relations and marketing gaffes that Jesus makes in his ministry.
Today’s reading is no exception.
Ask yourself, how does he mismanage the congregation so badly that he goes from, “ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” and ends up with, “ …all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town,…”?

And Jesus does this all himself.
First he puts words in people’s mouth, by assuming that they are going to quote a proverb to him and then that they will demand miracles.
Next he responds to them based on what he assumes they were going to say, and tells a story about Elijah that ends up condemning them for their exclusivity and suggests that, like Naaman, others will be healed and not them.
No wonder the congregation were furious!

I can only suppose that Jesus read the non-verbals, and intuited the sub-themes in the synagogue dynamic that sabbath.
Perhaps he, like all of us who wax hysterical about “the old home town” and the nostalgia of how things aren’t the same, (They never were!) found that neither he, nor we, can ever go back.

“Sentimentality is repressed brutality” said Freud.  Perhaps Jesus sensed the schmaltz in the cutesy pooh, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” maybe there was an unrecorded, “Gee but you’ve grown” thrown in?  Whatever it was, Jesus was not about to milk the marketing opportunity or play the P.R. violin.

He knew this town.  He had grown up with its narrowness.

He remembered how they had treated his mother and whispered about his “virgin” birth.  They wanted to group her with the prostitutes who lived on the edge of town.

He had seen how Samaritans passing through had been rejected, and how the tax-collectors were despised.
Of all people he could assume. After all he was one of them.

But he had walked away.

That’s the thing about this Gospel.  It just won’t let you rest at home.

Once you get it, you become marginalised like him. Suddenly, yet imperceptibly his truth, his inclusivity, his compassion, his humility become yours and you can never go back.

Once we have seen what Jesus sees and become what Jesus is, we don’t fit back at the school reunion and under the yellow ribboned, old oak tree. Going home is a nightmare just like Nazareth was for him.

So much for the “family values” lobby.  Jesus has just puked over the picket fence!

We all have to leave home and never return.  It’s the Jesus way.

Vintage extravagance – John 2:1-11

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

This miracle story seems to brim with invitation to metaphorical interpretation.  It is too bizarre a narrative to be taken literally.

  • A wedding where the wine runs out. Really?
  • A mother who doesn’t become offended by the dismissive comment of her son.  Really?
  • Six hundred litres of ceremonial ablution water that become wine without incantation or intercession by Jesus.  Really?

It is a story that just cannot be taken at face value.  At least not whilst you are sober!

Maybe that is the whole point.  This is not a story for sober judgment.

It is a miracle of intoxicating import.

It is a story of hope for those embarrassed hosts at life’s party who find themselves under resourced and red-faced at the possibility that the celebration has exceeded their most careful planning and logistics.

It is a story of detachment by a wise rabbi who realizes that miracles don’t require interference or intervention.  All miracles need is willing participation in the unfolding of the mystery.  To be open to the possibility that hospitality can supersede holiness and that vessels are better filled with joy giving wine than justifying washing rituals.

It is a story of extravagance where the cautious vintage of the careful caterer crashes out before the sparkle of the spontaneous appearance of grace.

It’s an inebriating insight into the life of Jesus.

It is a miracle of the Divine Domain. Drink up!

Diving for our destiny. Baptism of Jesus

Luke 3:15-22

 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

As a writer, I love the reality of becoming totally immersed in what I am doing.  There is a point for every writer when you get beyond the struggle of getting going, beyond the place of awkward editing, of evaluating your work, to the place of immersion. It is at that point that the writing begins to flow and you feel yourself being written more than writing.

This sense of immersion lies at the root of the meaning of baptism. As twitchy as we mainline Protestants may be about the depth and quantity of water used in the sacrament, we have to acknowledge. To be baptised is to be immersed. To surrender to the flow.

As I read Luke’s gospel I become aware of two immersions. There is the immersion of Herod into constriction and darkness. Herod, who decided to take the low road and earned the derision and disgust of John the baptiser, then adds to the depth of his darkness and has John thrown in to prison, thence to later beheading.

In contrast there is the immersion of Jesus into the mission of the Father. Immersing himself into light and opening.

Listen to Luke, “Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.”

Herod’s is an immersion into walled off imprisonment. He ends up every bit as confined as John whom he has locked up.

Jesus’ is an immersion into openness, heavens open, Spirit descends and voices speak.

We all know the power of our addictions to imprison us. To wall us in and ultimately make us lose our heads (or at least our minds). That is the Baptism of Herod

Yet every now and then, grace on grace, we are able to immerse ourselves into the Other.

To do what is required, to pray,  and like Jesus, to find ourselves opening up to light and heaven and to hear the flutter of Spirit wings. That is the baptism of Jesus.

That is the theme of this feast.

That is our surrender to all that is positive and transforming in the world.