Particles in the Cosmic Crib – Christ Mass Day

Harry's Cosmic Milk Bottle

John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

There is a spine chilling moment in Goethe’s Faust where Faust, the dry as dust academic in mid life, begins the play by bewailing:

Ah! Now I’ve done Philosophy,
I’ve finished Law and Medicine,
And sadly even Theology:
Taken fierce pains, from end to end.
Now here I am, a fool for sure!
No wiser than I was before:
Master, Doctor’s what they call me,
And I’ve been ten years, already,
Crosswise, arcing, to and fro,
Leading my students by the nose,
And see that we can know – nothing!
It almost sets my heart burning.
I’m cleverer than all these teachers,
Doctors, Masters, scribes, preachers:
I’m not plagued by doubt or scruple,
Scared by neither Hell nor Devil –
Instead all Joy is snatched away,
What’s worth knowing, I can’t say,
I can’t say what I should teach
To make men better or convert each.
And then I’ve neither goods nor gold,
No worldly honour, or splendour hold:
Not even a dog would play this part!

In desperation Faust decides to rewrite his life and begins with the Gospel of John:

It’s written here: ‘In the Beginning was the Word!’
Here I stick already! Who can help me? It’s absurd,
Impossible, for me to rate the word so highly
I must try to say it differently
If I’m truly inspired by the Spirit. I find
I’ve written here: ‘In the Beginning was the Mind’.
Let me consider that first sentence,
So my pen won’t run on in advance!
Is it Mind that works and creates what’s ours?
It should say: ‘In the beginning was the Power!’
Yet even while I write the words down,
I’m warned: I’m no closer with these I’ve found.
The Spirit helps me! I have it now, intact.
And firmly write: ‘In the Beginning was the Act!’

(Goethe’s Faust Scene I &III)

At that very moment Mephistopheles the embodiment of evil, the shadow, the devil that stalks every one of us, enters the room disguised as a poodle (the very dog that Faust said wouldn’t play his part), and the game is on.  Faust will live on trying to integrate all of his being in what remains of the second half of his life that he has extended in a bargain with the devil.  All the time Faust is aware that if he fails, he stands to lose his soul.  It is a dark deal.  We know it well.  We have made in myriad ways ourselves.

Robert Johnson that great explorer of the Golden world of the unconscious mind has described Faust as, “… one of the great statements of optimism, hope, and redemption in Western Literature” (Transformation: Understanding the Three Levels of Masculine Consciousness. Johnson, Harper Collins.1991)

It would seem that the dilemma of modern humans is that, like tired Faust, we have become sceptical of words, God knows, we have produced enough of them! (This from WordPress as I write “The best of 388,445 bloggers, 608,093 new posts, 352,786 comments, & 126,353,072 words posted today on WordPress.com.”)

We also have become doubtful of the ability to act in any way that will significantly integrate and heal the world through words or even deeds.

Like Faust we come on this Christ Mass day tired of words, and exhausted from our many acts. We drag ourselves away from Turkeys and Tinsel, Egg Nog and Alka-Seltzers and stumble into church not really expecting anything to happen here that will help or change anything.

We tell ourselves we have come for the children. That they should remember “the reason for the season,”. Now there is a hackneyed cliché if ever there was! Ho Ho Ho! I know of families where children are not permitted to open presents until they have been to church. What a terrible conditional religion!

So here we sit, exactly where we sat last year, and all the Gospel seems to have to offer is more words about Word. Every fibre of our exhausted minds wants to scream with Eliza Doolittle who in My Fair Lady sang, “Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through; first from him, now from you!

Do we want to rewrite things like Faust, In the beginning was the Mind, the Power, the Act?

Yet, what if we could get behind our verbage strewn present into the mind of the Gospel writer in his Hellenistic world we may discover that when he said Word(Logos), he didn’t mean the empty shells we have come to see words as, but rather understood that Mind, Power, Act and more were contained in that Logos that the Greek philosophers believed was the very core of Being in the Universe?  The Word John writes of here is not an exhausted collection of letters, it is the very core of existence.  Word(Logos) for the Greek mind was what the Higgs-Bosun (God Particle) is for ours

Could we perhaps attempt a modern day Faustian re-translation and say “In the beginning was the Life Energy”?

If we do we might get close to an understanding that enables us to take the truth of our religion into the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and say, “Here is God’s manger” and at the same time, fly up to Hubble’s lens and sensors and say, “Look as far as you can, and you are seeing just the interior of God’s Cosmic crib”

Like you, and Eliza, I am nauseated by the surfeit of words.  So I need to stop this flow which is probably only adding to my toxic verbal footprint.
I will try to be succinct.

  • Imagine the biggest and smallest manifestations of life energy that you can.
  • Now imagine all of that appearing in the magic and mystery of a vulnerable human life.
  • Get that, and you get the greatest gift of the Christ Mass.

“The Life Energy of the Universe, became flesh just like us and camped out amongst us”

Faust spent his final years in simple joy, not writing, seldom speaking, merely reclaiming land from the sea. May all of us who come home to the indwelling Christ Word do the same.

Merry Christmas.

Come and see…Ordinary 2

John 1:29-42

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o”clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

I have always been one of those people who need to verify things experientially.  It is never enough for me to hear how something works, I want to experience it.  I am not sure if this is a helpful trait to have, but it has made for some interesting experiences!

Because I am an experiential learner I appreciate the sequence of events that are described in this gospel passage.

John who has the experience of baptizing Jesus, who has seen the Spirit descending upon him in the form of a dove, is able to confidently point to Jesus as “The sacrificial lamb of God” and then to wax theological about the destiny of Jesus vis a vis Israel.  That was John’s experience and insight.

Two disciples of John then decide to follow Jesus, meet him and enquire about where he lives.  This question is far deeper than merely an inquiry after an address.  Amongst the Xhosa people of Southern Africa, there is a form of introduction which goes, “U velaphi?” It means, “Where do you come from?” In the customs of the Xhosas, the appropriate answer to the question is not to give an address, but to declare your clan heritage. The answer is self revelatory far beyond geography. The question is one of identity not of location.  I believe the question of the disciples, “Where are you staying?” has similar dimensions.

Having had the benefit of John’s theological identification of Jesus as the “Lamb of God”, I just love the way Jesus doesn’t respond, “Don’t you know who I am?”, or “What have you heard?” as so many self-styled, egotistical messiahs would answer.  Jesus’ response is a simple invitation to “Come and see.

This response is so beautiful because it is open ended and does not require any prior pre-judged concepts of Jesus.

Isn’t that the miracle of the Jesus journey?  Despite the countless layers of encrusted doctrine, dogma and determined identities that the Church has put onto Jesus as well as the requirements so many communities put on prospective followers before they even begin, Jesus does not.

His invitation is simply to experience.  Come and see.

It is an invitation to unprejudiced, undetermined, encounter.

It is an adventure where the disciple and the teacher are in relationship and not merely formulaic ritual.

It is the path to life.

The detail IS the devil

Lk 20:27-38

This sermon is available in audio (Click here)

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’

Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.

Have you ever met people who obsess about details? I have, and in most cases, where I have had the privilege of speaking deeply with such people in counselling, I have discovered that the obsession with details is often a compulsive strategy of avoidance of deeper issues. I suppose it is a similar syndrome that makes a student spend days preparing the study place, the lighting, the timetable, anything but getting down to studying. At least that’s how I remember it from my formal student days.

It would seem, from studying the Gospels that those who question Jesus are often caught up in the details and minutiae of religious practice as a way of avoiding the confrontation with what really matters in the deeper parts of who they really are and what needs transformation? At one point you will remember, Jesus accuses his hearers of straining out gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23:24)

Could it be that questioning around the details of marriage arrangements in the resurrection, is a similar avoidance of a deeper issue?

I offer as an example of this dynamic, so many  people I meet who are obsessed with past lives regression and similarly with who and what they will be in heaven or in their next life, depending on their eschatological persuasion.  These dear and sincere people are often caught up in a dance with their own egos. After all, who but our false selves would be deeply concerned about the manner in which our lives will continue in God? Please do not hear me dismissing these interests as inconsequential. I know many who have been greatly helped by exploring past lives as well as meditating on who and what they will be after this life.  All I am concerned to point out is that the ego feasts on these exercises of imagination and so lures the false self into deeper and deeper constructs of illusion, thereby avoiding the life changing encounters with Truth.

I am surprised that as I have got older, I have developed a fair amount of sympathy for my ego, or “false self” as Thomas Merton chose to name it. My sympathy arises from the recognition that my false self has everything to lose from transformative depth encounters with God . I do mean “everything”. To follow Jesus in the Kingdom of the Heavens requires “the grain of wheat to fall into the ground and die“. The cross that I have to take up daily in my following of Jesus will require the gentle, but nevertheless, inevitable transformation of the ego into the likeness of Jesus, and thereby an inevitable diminishing of the self with its obsession with self maintenance, defence and perpetuation.

The false self (ego) in what Fr Thomas Keating calls its “Programs for Happiness” will always be aiming away from the target of self transformation into Christ as our true nature and true self.    The false self targets its own gratification as the exclusive focus of this life.  Need I remind us that “missing the target” is the root meaning of the word “sin”?

Merton writes, “All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality to which everything else is ordered. There I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experience, for power, honor, knowledge and love to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could become visible only when something visible covered its surface” (Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation pp. 34-35).

The devilishly detailed question of the Sadducees ironically come from a group that did not believe in the resurrection, but who are happy to set up a straw man debate in order to discredit Jesus, thereby avoiding having to deal with his challenge to their lives.

So as I am tempted to dance with this straw man, and get into the details of the possibility of marriage in heaven or not, I am checked by a realization that what is at issue here is not marriage in heaven.  The issue  for Jesus is  “Eternal Life” (zoein aionion literally Life of the Ages)

How interesting to realise that the phrase “eternal life” is never used in the Old Testament. The phrase only begins with the New Testament. In the Old Testament the only one who is eternal is God.

Jesus however invites his followers to begin to imagine and dream that they can share in this wholly other dimension to living. “And this is eternal life, that they may know (ginoeskoesin) you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3

Living eternally, in the teaching of Jesus is not an awaited event that comes at the end of this life, but the awakening from the dead right now.  The resurrection happens when one realises that this life with its cares and woes is not all there is. The kingdom of the heavens is within us, and living from that perspective is the ultimate salvation, right here right now.

It would seem that knowing God through Jesus constitutes an awakening from the dead and a beginning of living eternally. Moses was already in this context so he could speak about God as the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.

So to return to the beginning of this discussion; past life regression and our obsession with reincarnation or all the details of heaven, are activities of the ego. The false self is caught up with the inconsequential details, that actually must die here and now in this world so that the true self may emerge.

Does this mean that Christ followers should not marry? I do not want to suggest that at all. The context of modern marriages as loving, long term partnerships between two completely equal human beings (of any gender), is such a completely different relationship in our time, that to compare it with marriage in Jesus day is just plain silly.

In Jesus day, wives and children were possessions of husbands.  The implication that people who are already living eternal life and who don’t marry is really more about living life with diminished grasping for possessions including wives, children and cattle, than about whether Christ follower today should be getting married or not.

The bottom line of this passage for me lies, in its invitation to avoid being distracted from our chief purpose of realising the transformative eternal life in Jesus. Don’t be seduced by the devilish minutiae of doctrinaire speculations of any kind.

Believing is seeing.

Luke 13:10-17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

One hundred and thirty eight times, in the four gospels, Jesus is reported as “seeing”.

Jesus noticed. Jesus was a “seer”.

It wasn’t that others around him did not see, it was the way he saw that contrasted with his disciples, the crowd, the Pharisees and generally everyone else. In last week’s lectionary reading, Jesus accused the crowd of being hypocites, because they were able to see the signs that foretold the changing weather (Lk12:55) but were unable to see the signs that showed that their heavenly parent wanted to give the kingdom to them, the little flock.(Lk 11:32)

There are forty four references to Jesus referring to or working with eyes in the gospels. One of the recurrent miracles of Jesus was to restore sight to the blind. It would seem that the people of Jesus’ day had a problem with seeing. Certainly they did not see as he saw, and thus did not see what he saw.

In today’s passage Jesus encounters a woman who has been crippled (astheneia – a word still with us in asthma and a male infertility disorder called astheno teratozoospermia lit “weak sperm”). The woman Jesus saw had been crippled for eighteen years, long enough I would speculate, for herto be seen by her community as the “bent over crippled woman”. So when she appeared in the synagogue, no one except Jesus, would have seen anyone other than a crippled woman.

What tells us that Jesus, saw something else is that his first words to her are in contradiction of her outward appearance, “Woman you are set free from your ailment“. The next thing Jesus does is to touch her, and it would seem that the contact is simple human contact and not some magical transfer of healing energy moment, as it is often interpreted as being. Just those words, based on unique seeing, and a simple human touch are enough to heal this woman and set her off praising God.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to see like that!

So I ask myself, “What was different in the way Jesus saw this woman that could teach me to see as he saw?”

In answer to my question, I noticed three aspects:

He saw the person and not the condition.

Whenever I have had the really challenging task of conducting a funeral for someone who has taken their own life, I have encouraged the congregation to remember that a person, any person is much, much more than the way that they died. It is a real trap to speak of a person who died by their own hand, as forever after, “a suicide” and to forget that they were also a person, in relationships, with a family, a career, a home.

The leader of the synangogue, in today’s reading saw only the misdemeanour of a healing on the Sabbath.  Jesus saw a miracle of a woman whose cure was imminent (and immanent).

In all my encounters with people, am I able to see the person and not the condition?

He saw the potential and not the present manifestation.

I would love to have the technology to evaluate exactly at what point the healing of the crippled woman took place. Was it when she was seen by Jesus? Was it when he told her she was free of her ailment? Was it when he touched her? I have no way of identifying the moment, but I would like to think that, at some level, the healing began when Jesus saw her as whole and not bent-double.

Just as quantum physics is teaching us that our expectations of outcomes in the experiments we are observing can determine the data we observe in the experiment, so too I believe people often become and manifest what we “see” them to be. In South Africa where we are still working on the fallout of our Apartheid heritage, there is a question asked in anti-bias workshops. The leader asks the group, “Why is it that when we see a white person running in the street, we ask, ‘I wonder what he is late for?‘” “When we see a black person running in the street, we ask, ‘I wonder what he is running from?‘” What effect does our shadow projection, or by contrast our light projection onto people do to the experiences they and we have of each other. The work of Carl Gustav Jung has shown that the effects are significant.

In all my encounters with people, am I able to see the potential in the seemingly suffering individual before me?

He saw without prejudice.

It would seem that Jesus had the wonderful gift to see exactly what was before him in its full kingdom potential and not be swayed by obvious externals and past realities that might contradict what he was seeing at a deeper level.

Prejudice affects us all. The word means to “judge before”

I remember a case that was told me of a teacher who was given false information about the intelligence and learning abilities of a class of children. After just one semester the children were actually performing according to the false profiles she had been given. Her prejudice had created real behaviour in the classroom.

In all my encounters with people, am I able to see the reality of the person rather than be swayed what I have been told or experienced of them before this moment? Can I act always without prejudice?

When I think of my work as a healer, (I believe all ministry is healing at some level) I realise that healing begins when people are seen as Jesus would see them:

  • With Unconditional Acceptance
  • With appreciation for their person and not their problem.
  • With vision for their potential and not their limitations
  • With insight into how my prejudice could keep them in bondage to suffering, or if I could let my prejudice go, to their liberation.

A dear colleague of mine, Don Scrooby, has a wonder-filled blog called Seeing more Clearly.  I like that.

Believing is seeing…. as Jesus does.

Re-learning to pray for today

Luke 11:1-13

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

It has become fashionable in recent years to offer translations of the Lord’s Prayer that intend to make the depths of this core Christian practice more meaningful and accessible.

One of my favourites is the one by Neil Douglas-Klotz, translated from the Aramaic, which is probably the language that Jesus spoke. If you visit this website you can hear the prayer being said in Aramaic (Note that God is referred to as “Allah” in Aramaic, a fact that draws me much closer to my Muslim brothers and sisters when I pray)

Douglas-Klotz’s translation of the Lord’s Prayer published in Prayers of the Cosmos reads as follows:

O Birther! Father- Mother of the Cosmos

Focus your light within us – make it useful.

Create your reign of unity now-

through our fiery hearts and willing hands

Help us love beyond our ideals

and sprout acts of compassion for all creatures.

Animate the earth within us: we then

feel the Wisdom underneath supporting all.

Untangle the knots within

so that we can mend our hearts’ simple ties to each other.

Don’t let surface things delude us,

But free us from what holds us back from our true purpose.

Out of you, the astonishing fire,

Returning light and sound to the cosmos.

Amen.

This translation is obviously very different from the one we grow up saying or singing in church but it does illustrate the need for us, in every generation, to review our understandings, not only of the Lord’s Prayer, but also of all our faith and practice.

A few years ago I was in conversation with a friend who was considering becoming a Buddhist monk and we were reflecting on the two hundred and twenty seven precepts or commandments that govern Bhikkhu’s lives. In that conversation I coined the phrase, “context-relevance” which describes the need for our doctrine, ethics and practice to be relevant with the context we find ourselves in. If we do not pursue context-relevance, (and I don’t mean context-relativism) we run the risk of becoming anachronistic and irrelevant.

With that in mind, permit me to take another look at the Lord’s Prayer (which would be better named “The Disciple’s prayer”; as the Lord’s Prayer is what Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.)

Say it with me:

Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.

Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

Give us this day our daily bread nd forgive us our trespasses(sins) as we forgive those who trespass(sin) against us.

And lead us not into temptation (Save us from the time of trial) but deliver is from evil.

Such familiar words which we learn as children, and then as adults we love telling of the bloopers kids make whilst learning. Ones like, “Our Father who shouts in heaven, ‘Hello what’s your name?'” My favourite, was one of my sons who, as a little mite, earnestly prayed, “… and lead us not onto the station.”

The question that lurks behind the cuteness is, “What is the context-relevance of this prayer in 2010?

Permit me then, to apply what I have learnt of modern human needs, from my pastoral ministry; to the Lord’s Prayer in an attempt to offer some insights that may remind us of its context relevance in 2010.

Our Father. Thank you that despite the dysfunction of some families of origin, I need never think of myself as spiritually orphaned nor abandoned in my life as it is now.

Who art in heaven and not in some faraway destination, but right within the heart of your creation. You live in the place of perfect bliss and love, which I can access every time I open to your reality within me.

Hallowed be Thy name which is above every human distinction and status. You are without equal and thus in competition with no one. As wholly other, you do not require of me to justify you, explain you, or even defend you. I need only acknowledge you as the ultimate and everything else then finds its proper place.

Thy Kingdom come. May the discovery that you are in charge of all reality as the Prime One, be the experience of every conscious being.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May your dreamed destiny for everything you have created be realised within us, and made real around us, so that the intended perfection of all beings and relationships may manifest.

Give us this day our daily bread. Restore our perceptions so we may see you at the heart of all provision and work for a living and not to make a killing.

And forgive us our trespasses(sins) as we forgive those who trespass(sin) against us. Help us to understand that your unconditional acceptance of every person and culture is the ground of harmony and community for us all. May compassion grow for victims and perpetrators alike, so that real transformation will be our experience.

And lead us not into temptation (Save us from the time of trial) Guard us from our own destructiveness and the oppositional forces within us that keep us from being healed.

but deliver is from evil. May our shadows never overwhelm us, and may fear not be the ruling principle in our living and decision making.

So may it be for us all

AMEN

Watching till the ego yields.

Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The Indians call it Darshan. It is a sanskrit word that means to gaze, to behold.

For an Indian devotee to attend the Darshan of a teacher, or guru, is a great blessing. When a guru gives darshan there is no expectation from the devotee, other than an opportunity to see the teacher, to gaze upon the teacher. No words are expected but followers of a teacher in the East will often describe how powerful the darshan was spiritually. The gaze, sometimes including eye contact oft times will become the vehicle of some form of transmission from the teacher to the disciple. It is an exchange which will empower and bless their lives.

Our Western tradition finds this practice foreign. We are a culture of doers. The idea of wordless worship is about as comprehensible to us a Vuvuzela at Wimbledon! We want words, lots of them. We want to be told what to do. We want concepts, opinions, theories, all of which we will engage with, accept or reject, promote or oppose. The idea of wordless, devoted gazing is not something that comes naturally to us.

It was also foreign to Martha, as she fussed around the house preparing a meal for Jesus and the family who were gathered in Bethany. Isn’t it interesting that when we are busy working, the ego will begin to inflate itself around the significance of the work and then make the work, that is often as mundane as meal preparation, the most important thing in the world, simply because we, or more accurately, our egos are now invested in the action.

Having been a parent for the past twenty six years has given me many illustrations of just how dashed my ego can feel when, having gone to a lot of trouble to prepare a special supper for the family, (remember I am a Cancerian) the family members rush past the table at random intervals, grabbing and gulping, on their way to multiple more important appointments. All that remains is the candle on the table guttering in their slipstream as they dash out the door! At moments like these I understand Martha’s irritation. My ego insists on being stroked and acknowledged. “Withold your adulation at your peril!

Just like Martha I then want to enlist Jesus (the morality and ethics icon) in my egoic revenge and reformation program for these Phillistines. “Tell them the truth”, I whine. “Get them to appreciate me! Tell them they are wrong to take me for granted! Tell them anything but please notice the significance of all the things I do for you, my family and community.”

There is a folksy, fairytale myth that seems to grow ever more schmaltsy and syrupy (what a strange spread that would be!) with the “Family Values” brand of franchised Christianity one sees around. It is steeped, not in robust real world spirituality that acknowledges schedules, stress, single-parenting, screaming bills and the general chaos of life in the third Millennium. Rather, this Helen Steiner Rice’ish (Read “Hallmark” if you don’t get her in your context) image is steeped in an illusion of how family should be. It is as sentimental and unreal as the makeup on Barbie’s plastic cheeks. The most baffling aspect of this pursuit of sentimental Family Values is that hundreds of thousands of men and women are beating themselves up at this very moment because they can’t achieve the false projected perfection that this movement demands, but cannot really model. This is not only the error of Martha (“After all I have done for you”) it is also the rampant ego’s greatest trap for our true selves. Robert Johnson and Jerry Ruhl remind me in “Contentment:the way to true happiness” that Sigmund Freud called sentimentality, “repressed brutality” they point out ” When sentimentality gushes forth, you don’t have to wait very long for brutality to follow” When will the church learn that following Jesus is more than playing at that sentimental game “Happy Families”?

Martha and my ego, get short shrift from Jesus for all our whining attempts to coerce him to our side.

“Mary has discovered the only one thing that is necessary,” Sit down, sit still, watch, and wait”

Robert Johnson tells of how he asked a first generation student of C.J. Jung’s how best to work at his own growth and integration. The reply was, “Read mythology, read Jung, and watch. Watching is most helpful

This is Darshan. This is watching without expectation and prejudice. Look if you have eyes, listen if you have ears.

We call it contemplation, or if we are even bolder, meditation. The name doesn’t matter, the secret lies in the simple awareness.

I never tire of reading that wonderful vignette that comes at the beginning of Hebrew exodus into freedom. All is chaos. The Red Sea is an impenetrable barrier in front of the escaping pilgrims. Behind them the pursuing Egyptian chariots are drawing ever closer with dust and destruction in their wake. Trapped and fearful Moses hears a baffling and challenging word, “Stand still and watch the salvation of your God” Exodus 14:13

Watch and pray.

There is nothing to be done. Nothing for the ego to grasp. No programme to be followed. No hoops to jump through

As I watch Mary watching Jesus, it would seem watching is most helpful.

The loneliness of the God in our image.

Staring at this image for 30 seconds creates a picture of Jesus when you then close your eyes

Luke 9:18-24

Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'”

Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”

He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.

He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

This passage has an intriguing opening. It also is an interesting study in psychological projection.

There seems to be a contradiction in that opening statement. Jesus is praying in solitude and his disciples are with him? How could that be?

It seems to suggest an important lesson for those of us who take prayer seriously. Solitude need not mean solitary. It would seem from this cameo of Jesus’ spiritual practice that he needed to be in solitude, that essential state for the growth of spirit in Spirit and by Spirit. This of course is not new to us. The Gospel of Luke distinctively shows Jesus as often drawing aside to be in solitude. What is of note however, is that this solitude may be practiced in the presence of a community of those who are on the journey with us.

There is too much loneliness in our world. Those of us, like myself, who live alone may too easily succumb to the temptation of solipsism and think that God may only be found in absence from others. Wasn’t it John Cassian who taught that community is essential for the monk, for how can one hope to grow in grace if there is no one to challenge and irritate you?

So the distinction between solitude, and loneliness have to be carefully discerned.

That profound Jungian, (no, sadly, they are not all profound, many are merely pretentious) Robert Johnson, has written of loneliness in “Inner Gold: understanding psychological projection”

He says:

Loneliness is an interior matter… The collective unconscious often produces myths that tell us what is happening or about to happen in a culture… [One] is Der Fliegende Holländer, The Flying Dutchman. There are many variations on the story and all go something like this. A young man has committed an indiscretion, a transgression that resembles the one that caused Adam and Eve to be expelled from the Garden of Eden. He is the captain of the ship The Flying Dutchman. As punishment, he and his ship are banished to sail the storm clouds, where they must stay until someone loves him. He cannot ask anyone to love him. He has to wait. That’s the terrible thing about loneliness. You can’t ask for relief. It’s a kind of paralysis. You can only hope that someone will sense your dilemma and help.

The Flying Dutchman has been banished “above” to the stormy upper world. Loneliness is always “up there,” an abstraction. There are billions of people in the world. We do not need to feel lonely. But we alienate ourselves from ourselves and then we head up to the clouds, to the stormy aspect of loneliness. When our feet are on the ground, we feel connected to the energy of the world and don’t feel so lonely. When we connect with the lower parts of ourselves, we are in relationship with others as well. The word saunter comes from the Middle Ages, when we sainted or sanctified inanimate objects, and not just people. Even the cross was sainted, and so was the earth. The earth was called Saint Terrare, and so when we saunter, we are in contact with Saint Terrare, the sainted earth. Sauntering grounds and connects us. It is an important cure for loneliness.

Every evening, as the winds whirl around the chimneys, the villagers hear the Flying Dutchman moaning, crying out in loneliness. They all rush indoors, closing their doors and windows, to keep out this awful sound. For years the young man lives like that, up in the storm clouds, moaning in the chimney tops of northern Germany.

Then, one day, a peasant maiden hears him moaning, and because of her good heart, goes out into the yard and calls to him. She asks the Flying Dutchman to come to her, and that is all it takes. He comes down and is relieved of his loneliness. They have a love affair, and his humanity is restored. Only a peasant woman in touch with the earth has the good sense to do this.

Many of us are Flying Dutchmen, and our loneliness is unendurable. We have an insatiable need for entertainment—we moderns watch TV and other screens more than seven hours a day—and for anything that might assuage our longing, especially late at night when the howling in the chimney tops is most painful. Loneliness is on the rise, and advertisers exploit this: If you do thus and so, you’ll feel better.

There are three kinds of loneliness—loneliness for the past, loneliness for what has not yet been realized, and the profound loneliness of being close to God. The third kind is actually the solution. A good myth doesn’t leave you out on a limb. It describes the difficulty, and also offers a solution.( Pg 36-38)

Jesus, before Jung and Johnson, knew this. That is why he is praying in solitude, WITH the disciples.

So we come to the psychological projection part of the story.

Probably one of the most powerful excuses we offer when we fudge the distinction between solitude and loneliness, and want to justify our aloneness, is that when we are alone we have less conflict. With Satre we intone, “Hell is other people“. The truth is when we are alone we don’t have to account for ourselves and we don’t have to deal with the expectations of life and others.

It is rigorous to be in community with others. It is difficult to deal with the projections and the expectations. Ask any clergy-person. I mean, who on earth or should that be “who in hell?” decided that clergy should enter this already rigorous communal life with the Albatross title of “REVEREND” around their necks? If that is not begging for destructive projection then I don’t know what is. Could this simple aspect account for so much of clergy burnout, depression  and psychosis?

Healthy and whole Jesus, in the solitude of prayer in community deals with projection head on. He asks what most of us as clergy are too afraid to ask, “So who do people say that I am?”

Watch the projections happen. Individual and collective unconscious archetypes are projected onto Jesus in this passage. “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'”

Jesus, sniffs but he doesn’t inhale. This is ego-intoxicating stuff. Instead he moves the question into the community. Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter offers the prophetic, priestly and papal projection, “The Christ of God.”

Now there is something for the ego to get hold of!  That trumps “Reverend”, don’t you think?

But healthy and whole Jesus, still sniffing and not inhaling,says Luke, “…rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.

Instead, Jesus begins to teach about selfless service and how, losing one’s life is the only way to follow him.

I don’t know if our communities will ever be able to stop the projection onto the clergy with its terrible price. I know even less, if the clergy will ever become integrated enough to stop inhaling those projections. Certainly the young crop of clergy I see in my denomination and Synod seem hell bent on being more “Reverend” than they are on being “real”

And so the church will still never see Jesus as clearly as Jesus saw himself.

Lonely isn’t it?

(Listen to this reflection being preached on Father’s Day 2010 at Port Alfred Methodist Church.  Click here)

Up, up and INSIDE!

Luke 24:44-53

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

When European missionaries came to South Africa, they were faced with a theological conundrum.

The indigenous people, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Mpondo et al, believed that “God” who they named Nkulunkulu (The Biggest One), Camata, Modimo or Vulindhlela (The Way opener) lived in the ground. Caves and holes were sacred spaces which is why they were adorned with lithographs which in turn were animated by flickering fire in the caves. To this day the traditions of Africa see their beloved dead buried in the kraal, (corral). When an African is facing life’s challenges, a sacred ritual is to return to the kraal at one’s home and pour the froth of traditional beer into the earth before asking advice of the ancients who are buried there amongst their cattle.

The European missionaries were creed bound to teach that God lived in the sky, and also that there was a place called hell (which African cosmology had no reference, or need for)  deep in the earth. The way they did this “preaching” was to literally turn the psyche of Africans around from the God of the deep to the God of the sky, thus creating a deep tear in the soul of Africans who were already, by their very nature, profoundly theistic people.

What the missionaries did not have the insight to examine in their time was how they, as Westerners had come to believe in the God of the sky. Our post-modern deconstructed age has given us that insight and we understand how those early, pre-biblical thinkers could have concluded from their environment that the earth was a flat disk standing on pillars in the midst of water. This water threatened the earth and was kept back at the shore and in the sky by a dome that held back the chaos and destruction. This theme has been interestingly revisited by Stephen King in his latest novel “Under the Dome” but this time the chaos comes from within the dome and not from outside!

On a flat earth it was easy to point to where God lived. God was up beyond the dome and in fact was partly the dome itself holding back the chaos that seemed so close in that early world devoid of simple scientific rationale.

Coming with this middle-eastern cosmology to the events of Jesus’ death, resurrection and re-assimilation into God it was easy to speak of him having “ascended” back to God. Back beyond the dome.

In 2010 it is not so easy to speak of the notion of the ascension.

I remember one of my sons as a junior school learner, looking at a globe of the earth and asking who had decided that the North Pole should be on the top. “There is no up or down in space” was his insightful comment. Of course he was quite correct!

Now that we know what we know about third millennium cosmology, to speak of Jesus ascending is nonsensical. Where is up from a ball? Also given what we now know about the size of the Universe, ascension gets us into all sorts of problems such as how far, how high, which galaxy? Silly stuff.

As a concept the ascension is almost unworkable in our day. Thank God that there are only ten days between the Feast of Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost. Wherever Jesus goes dimensionally, it is only for ten days, and perhaps that is why Jesus, knowing the complexity of this phenomenon, blesses the proto-church disciples and tells them not to do anything until he gets back!

I am tickled however, by the African notion of the abode of God in the earth and not in the sky, so indulge me while I play with an idea that is every bit as speculative as the Ascension doctrine has been.

What if Africans are correct and Jesus came from God who lives in the earth? He would then have descended on this Feast day, back into the earth from which he came. I wonder how that simple change of orientation would have changed our world history?

What if the Africans had sent missionaries with this message to Europe and her Industrialised siblings instead of the other way around? Would the earth be groaning as she is now? Would we have raped and pillaged the abode of God as we have, all the while believing that God was “up there” blessing our “taming and subduing” of our island home in space”?

Of course, I have no way, and no mandate, to alter our doctrine nor our history, but I can’t help musing about the possibilities of a saviour who is earthed more deeply than the one I am duty bound to point to somewhere up there.

Perhaps after I have preached this Ascension Sunday I will go and have a beer in a kraal and wait for the Pentecostal breath to save our land.

Fully-Filled Epiphany – 3C

Luke 4:14-21
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Some time ago now, I was in conversation with a a lady who expressed concern about her adult son. “It is so sad”, she reflected,”that my son hasn’t accepted Christ.”

“I hear your concern.”, I replied,”But isn’t it wonderful that Christ has accepted your son?”

This conversation once again highlighted, for me, just how ego-centric and individualistic our culture has become. Right to the point where salvation is seen no longer as a work of God’s amazing grace, but is something that we do and achieve by our decisions and actions.

Jesus comes to his home town of Nazareth. To socio-politically oppressed people, poor people. Dare I say, desperate people?  If salvation was something they could do, something they could decide to accept by an executive decision, don’t you think they would have done it as quickly as you can say Roman Empire?

The fact that they didn’t, is all because they couldn’t.
If you have ever been lost, oppressed, abused, depressed, hopeless, you will know the impotence of not being able to change anything by an executive decision of your choice. No plan, no strategy, no act of will can save you in those moments.

That is what makes this one-liner sermon of Jesus so powerful.

Jesus, in his home synagogue,  is given the scroll of Isaiah to read from.  He  is no doubt, expected to teach from the passage and expound in great rabbinic tradition, the meaning of the words he has read. The people are expectant. Luke tells us, “a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone”. The expectation in the synagogue is palpable.

What powerful words he has to expound from:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This text would be a Liberation Theologian’s dream. Words of exhortation to revolt and resistance spring easily to mind.
It is an Evangelical’s dream text. Words of of invitation to make a decision for Christ and cast off the shackles of sin flood this preacher’s imagination.
It is a text tailor made for a Faith Healer’s sermon. “Oooooh Jeeeesuhs, I know you are telling me right now that there is someone here this morning who is blind and who want’s to see! Come forward, my sister, my brother, Jeeeesuhs want’s to heal you!”
There probably isn’t a genre of preaching that could not mine this text to profound and dramatic effect.

But the home-boy Rabbi applies none of these techniques.
With every expectant eye rivetted upon him he sits down!
And then in a simple one liner says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It is almost as if he has run out of steam. In my imagination I hear those words not shouted or ranted, but almost whispered, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Our parents in the church who set up the lectionary were very skillful to break Luke’s record at this point. Next week we will pick up the thread and see the reaction of the congregation to this one sentence sermon, but for now, we are left to allow those nine words to sink slowly into our contemplation.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In a world where I have been told that is all depends on me, my actions, my strategies, my plans, my decisions; to be confronted with the fact that there is nothing to DO is a conundrum.

The word that is translated, “fulfilled” means exactly that, “filled to the full” Pleroo is defined as: to make replete, that is, (literally) to cram a net, level up a hollow, (hints of John the Baptizer’s valley filling sermon here). It is a word that describes complete accomplishment.
There is nothing for me to do here, and it drives my Western activist mind nuts!

This is why I am so grateful for the blessed times I have spent in dialogue and practice with my spiritual siblings from the religions of the East.  Hindu and Buddhist alike have a rich tradition of contemplation that invites the practitioner to simply “Be here now” in the phrase of Ram Dass.
A practice that does not rush to change what it has not yet fully understood, a practice that sees the perfection of the lotus flower growing in the pond of raw sewage.
It is a  practice that makes me understand Jesus far better and enables me to make more sense of that nine word sermon. As I become still, I know… that God is… Good News.
The good news is that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us,” that there is “good news for the poor,release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. There is good news that the oppressed are free, and this is the year of the Lord’s favour.

This reality already exists right here right now, if I will only stop trying to recreate and relocate all the world to a place where they all resemble my culture, my creed and my economy.
Living in Africa and having spent time in India, I have seen and every now and then realised=(made real):…

  • the perfection of the poor unfairly made poor,
  • the freedom of prisoners unjustly imprisoned,
  • the deep inner sight of the alleged blind whose vistas are bleak and dark,

and I have realized that the scripture has already been fulfilled.

This does not mean no action, but it does mean no cultural imperialism.
This does not mean no compassion, but it does mean no whimsical feelings without my being there with and alongside those who are before me (the COM in compassion means “with”)

It means realizing, recognizing, accepting, that the one who reads the scroll, knows what he is doing,and so will I, if I stay close to HIM.

I think to myself, “What a wonderful Word” – Christmas Eve/Day

Word becoming flesh

John 1:1-18 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

So how does word become flesh?

It is a quirky kind of question, don’t you think?
It sounds like those silly riddles I grew up with. When is a tree not a tree?

Words seem so insubstantial. We talk, we shout, we scream, we sing, we pray.

WordPress.com where I host my blog, tells me that 50,419,875 words were written into its blogs on Thursday.
Flesh on the other hand is very substantial. And after today’s Christmas dinner, chances are your and my flesh will be even more substantial!
On December 19th, there were estimated to be 6,791,048,312 human flesh bodies on the planet according to the US Census service website

So how does word become flesh? And if that is at all possible, how does one such enfleshment change anything amongst so many people on the planet?

One would have to begin with words that can create something.
Words like ‘You are special’, ‘I love you unconditionally’, ‘I want to be with you and share my life with you’.
These are words which we have come to associate with dialogue between lovers, yet if we can tune out the very strong Hollywood, and now Bollywood, overlay we may find that these are words which are at the core of all human longing.
We long for unity and union at almost every level of our lives.

How would the words:’You are special’, ‘I love you unconditionally’, ‘I want to be with you and share my life with you’; have changed us if we had heard them from:

  • Our parents?
  • Our mentors?
  • Our partners?
  • Our children?

We long to be acknowledged. To have someone say, ‘You have significance to me’, ‘What happens to you matters to me’
It is these words that unlock in human nature the almost unlimited potential for the good, the true and the beautiful that we long for and pursue with our lives.
It is these words that lie at the heart of the Incarnation of God into our lives as Jesus.

John’s gospel picks up a Greek philosophical concept namely “The Word”, the divine Logos, that which the Philosophers regarded as the first principle that lies at the heart of all that is good, true and beautiful in the Universe. It is the Word that encapsulates all the integrating words I have been speaking about.

This Word says John, took flesh and pitched its tent among us.

It began with Mary hearing.
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”…”Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:29-30 NRSV)
Mary is incredulous.
“But she was much perplexed by his words (logo-Gk) and pondered(or dialogued with herself) what sort of greeting this might be” Luke 1:29 NRSV
Is it not part of our conditioning by oppressive religious structures that we have been told that we can never hope to find favour with God?
No wonder Mary was puzzled. Raised in a shame blame culture that was particularly hard on women, she would never have hoped to have found favour with God.

In almost thirty years of pastoral ministry I still feel the jolt when someone comes to see me for counsel and begins the conversation, ‘Peter, I know I am not a good Christian, but…‘ In moments like these, and they are all too frequent, I ask myself, what kind of message have we, as the church, been proclaiming?

If you find all the other theological reasons for the Incarnation too esoteric, then this simple moment in a young girl’s life should be enough for you to understand what the theologians try so hard to explain.

God wanted us all to know that we have found favour with God.
That we are blessed amongst people. Not because we are better than them but simply because we have stumbled onto this truth! The Word of God’s love is here for us all to see.

Our Roman Catholic friends have maintained a beautiful prayer, that has largely been lost to Protestantism. It is based on this message of the angel.
I am sure you know it…

Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.

The prayer then goes on into high octane doctrines of the nature of Mary that will only confuse our discussion, so I am going to stop there.

I am sure you agree this prayer is biblical and beautiful
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.

This is the message of the Incarnation.
This is how the Word becomes flesh.

What is only slowly dawning on me however, as I live with this prayer, is that it is a prayer that I can pray for myself, that you can pray for yourself.
I could pray it like this…

Greetings, Peter, full of grace,
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you amongst people,
and blessed is the fruit of your life, Jesus.

‘Whoa, just a minute!’, I hear you protest.

Let me unpack this a bit
I am suggesting we can pray the “Hail Mary” and insert our names in Mary’s place, because this is the essential meaning of Word becoming flesh.

So if I can commentate line by line:
Greetings, Peter, full of grace (where would I be without Amazing Grace?)
The Lord is with you. (always, till the end of the age)
Blessed are you amongst people (because, somehow, this Good News found me!)
and blessed is the fruit of your life, Jesus. (All that is good about me is His Spirit’s fruiting in me)

The Incarnation is not only a moment in history, it is the start of an ongoing process, beginning with Jesus and fruiting in every follower.

I hang out with people of other faiths as often as I can. How else can one hope to build a trust relationship in which to share Jesus?
I really love learning about their notions of what is precious and blessed about their faith path.
Of course when some trust has been built in those friendships, the questions come more easily, and inevitably, this one from my friends on Eastern paths, pops up.
‘Do you believe in reincarnation?’

They of course think they know what my answer is going to be, so what I say surprises them.
‘Yes, I do believe in reincarnation, but maybe not quite as you may think?’

The Christian message clearly speaks of the path of the disciple, being a path of dying to self so that Christ can be born in the follower.
That is Christian reincarnation.
Jesus being re-incarnated in every Christ follower as his word of love, compassion, forgiveness, healing, peace; all of it comes and takes flesh in your life and mine.

The Incarnation of the Word of God into human flesh happens first in Jesus and that is what we are celebrating this Christmas day. The Incarnation doesn’t end there though. It is the ongoing fruit of transformation of my life and yours, by the fruiting Word incarnate in us.

May your life and mine be transformed by God’s word, Jesus and may we all become just like him.

“O holy child of Bethlehem, be born in us today”