Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Palm Sunday - Expectations vs Hope

Expectations vs Hope - What's the difference?

It's a sunny Sunday morning, people are clutching their palms, children are playing in the streets, faces glistening in the light and there is a sense of celebration, sweet innocent expectation.

I had forgotten it was Palm Sunday. The evangelical church in Spain tends to respect the rhythm of hand clapping more than that of the church calendar ;-) ... But today I'm drawn into the festivities and I'm thinking. What do we wave our palms at in life? Why did the crowds gather that day to wave their palms at Jesus? Their salvation? Their answer? Were they asking the right question and did they know what they needed saving from and do we?

In first century Judeah, salvation was political. The Jewish people were searching for a figure strong enough to liberate them from their day to day oppressive circumstances, to raise them to a fair standing in society and to restore their opportunities.

I wonder what the refugees of Calais, Lesbos and Idomeni would be thinking if Jesus 'Saviour' rode into their midst. Maybe he could ride in giving out unconditional visas to Europe, material aid, or a good few slaps to certain world leaders? To a certain extent we have all found ourselves in circumstances where we await a fix it Saviour to arrive. And no doubt we need him to come. No doubt we need him to ride into our lives, as humbly and gently as he did then, as if in a whisper. But our salvation may not look as we expect.

Jesus was wholeheartedly for the poor and marginalized, but what did he do for them? He called them blessed, he joined them and eventually he died alongside them. In the wake of sacrificial love he brought healing and dignity. It doesn't sound too glamorous but it points to something very important. The Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of is in this world but not of it, it transcends, ascends and re-invents it. It's not a new regime, it's a new consciousness. It breathes different air.

The Kingdom does not flourish amongst the powerful, but at the crumbling edges of the Empire, where empty hands are open. It may not get you the promotion you want, the lifestyle
you expect, the compensation you deserve. But just maybe this humble King can show you a life beyond what you could have asked for, a hope beyond what you could have expected, a citizenship beyond what you could have applied for and love beyond what you could have imagined.

I'll raise my palm to that :-)

Monday, 5 October 2015

Facetime#7 - Invisible Ink

‘No one has ever seen God but if we love one another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us’ 1 John 4 v 12

Did you ever have those pens as a kid that only certain paints, inks or lights could make visible? Here the bible is giving us a key to God visibility … LOVE is what illuminates us. It shows us who God really is and who we are.

It makes us more real (velvetine rabbit style)

Such was Jesus’ identification with his fellow humans that he said that to do to others was the same as to do to him and to do to him was to do to God. Interestingly he most identifies with the ‘least of these my brothers and sisters’ :the least important, the least attractive, the least visible. Why? I think because if we can see the sacredness of these precious ones, who have had all their human wealth and status stripped away, it’s because we have discovered the invisible ink that reveals the infinite value of everyone. Love. And there in the ink spill amongst the lost and confused and down trodden of this world we will also find the face of God. Only when worldly interest has left the building, can love make its home.

These passages reaffirm that we cannot ‘love God and hate our neighbour’ because that would involve an inherent contradiction. Your neighbour is God’s brain child, to damage one of his beloveds, however small, is a direct shot to the Heart. But more than this, if we dare to look deeper and discover the unique beauty of each one, it will be like finding pieces of shattered light, tiny mirrors reflecting the face of God.

‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me’ Jesus

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Facetime#6 - Jesus

‘I can remember faces not names’ some people say, or the reverse ‘remind me what he looks like … I can’t put a face to the name.’

This is where things get really weird. There was this guy, who lived over 2000 years ago now, he spoke some wise words, even allegedly performed some miracles and was executed. His name has been haunting human history ever since, impacting people’s lives and decisions. A man. Jesus.

In a quick study of the word ‘amaze’ in the bible, I have been quite struck, amazed even, by how many times the word is used in reference to Jesus. People were reportedly overwhelmed and amazed by him on frequent occasion, what he said, what he did. There was something about him and it was fascinating.

‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were created, without him nothing was created that has been created. ‘  John 1v1 .Is this word, the logos, the operating system of God? The Presence with no face, the Seeing with no eye, the Server with no hands, the Voice with no mouth?

Just out of interest, what do you think the Divine Being would look like, or act like, if contained in human form? What weight would the Presence carry? What reality would the Eyes see? What people would the Hands serve? What words would the Mouth speak? Really ,what do you think? I am a Christian because when I see Jesus I see God living as a human, if I really want to put a face to the name or a name to the face of God, for me it’s him J

I think if we allow it to, his life does not just resonate through history books, it resonates through to the very core of our being, reminding us what it is to be human, reminding us what it is to be Divine. It is said that he did not die, or indeed that death could not hold Him. Such is the power of such a life. Uncontainable.

We do not have Instagram pics of JC, we do not know what his face looked like, if he was hot or not, though he would probably be on trend currently with that bearded hipster look. There were no selfie sticks in Palestine those days. But we do have some scrabbled together records, words, stories of  lifes changed. Think what you will, but the echo of this life is still sounding and, if you finger through some of those precious pages and let your soul read his teachings, you may find yourself staring into the face of God.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Facetime#5 - Fascination

‘Attraction held attentively by a unique power, personal charm or unusual nature’

The interesting thing about the definitions of fascination I have found is they all seem to allude to some kind of magical or magnetic quality: the inexplicable pull of curiosity towards something different, exciting. Wonder.

In Swansea where I went to University there is an observatory tower, with the phrase engraved ‘lost are those who are unamazed’. It’s true, when life looses that allure, the vav goes out with the vum and all is lost in dullened drudgery. Then something amazing comes along, a spark that shakes us out of the hum drum and leads us back into wonder.

I think it’s fair to say that ironically, in this modern world of so much stimulus, it is becoming increasingly difficult to genuinely experience this spark. There is a sense of ‘we have seen it all before’ and we echo with the writer of Ecclesiastes ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ and ‘meaningless meaningless everything is meaningless’.

However there are still some things that light the fire of fascination, however sophisticated we become, and funnily enough they are often quite simple. Spending time with children, for example, opens our eyes again to the joy of discovery and imagination, or of course, the classic, falling in love. These experiences have the incredible quality of feeling totally unique to the beholder whilst in fact being relatively common. We are lost for a moment in wonder and it’s a gift, we see the world in a different light. The romance of life.

Romance is everywhere I think. Falling in love just helps us to find it and share it. A sunset, a corn field a starlit night. Who was the set designer for this theatre of life? Beauty raises its voice. Could there be someone else trying to romance us from behind the scenes?

It is clear to me that the fascination that causes us to look into a lover’s eyes or stare at a baby’s face has something to do with an appreciation of beauty and then the exciting possibility of mutual discovery. The face becomes a door to an endless universe of mysteries to be uncovered.

These days the natural world is oft the subject of scientific explanation or the object of exploitation, whilst talk of the supernatural frequently invites scepticism … but what about fascination? What if we were to look upon it again as if it were the face of a Lover, a doorway to the Limitless Divine Soul? To touch gently its skin like a fragile treasure. To adore its contours, to wonder at what lies behind its veil, to afford it our still gaze and in the gazing, invite it to speak.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Facetime#4 - Light

‘If God had a face, what would it look like? And would you want to see, if seeing meant that you would have to believe?’ Joan Osbourne

So what would it be like to approach the face of God? In my idea and experience of God we are talking about the Entity who knows all and sees all. Therefore to approach God is to approach all truth and that includes the truth about ourselves. Our truth exposed before a glimmering light. No hiding or pretending. Are we willing to let the eyes of truth search us? Will they be kind?

This is where some of us start to shy away from the idea of interaction with a ‘God’. We imagine a fussy old man with a stick come to poke and prod and point out our nasty bits. We then get cross, thinking of God as mean and petty, detached from our suffering and possibly an agent of it, deserving of a good old poke back! It’s strange, but people rarely think that God might actually like them, it’s more common to expect general disapproval and tutting.

Light comes not to condemn darkness but to unravel it, to make it light. The face of God is light. We cannot persuade it with false pretences, or impress it with our achievements, we have only to be in it and to bathe. An encounter like this is powerful and can bring things up to the surface; an awareness of our inadequacies, an urge to say sorry, an unhealed wound … and that is OK, it’s part of our divine unravelling. My experience of this, thankfully, is that in the face of God, our truth is met with love.

Why do we look at people’s faces when they speak to us? I think it is in order to read and understand their feeling and disposition towards us. We may acquire much knowledge and theory about God but if we do not seek the face we will not discover the heart which sees us and loves us.

It’s not surprising that the human experience of being known and loved is so satisfying, I believe it’s truly a heavenly experience. In the face of the one who loves us or in the face of the one we love, we see God.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Facetime#3 - Connecting

In my previous post I suggested that the ability to relate is, for me, one of the wonders of the universe. It might also be one of the fundamental factors that holds it together. We are all caught up in it, in the maths of it, the music of it.

When I read that we are made in the ‘image of God’, I wonder what that means. In what way could we be like the Creator? Could it be in this manifest ability to relate? The metaphors in the scriptures continue as we are presented with a God who has no eyes but can see, no ears but can hear, no mouth but can speak, no hands but can act. Do we carry the physical attributes of an unseen relational world? In this sense we could all be fitted with the same chip.

 So can God get personal?

I have entitled this series ‘Facetime’ . The train of thought was inspired by observing our own human desire to have face to face contact with others and out of a curiosity as to why and how we are encouraged in the scripture to seek the face of God. Such is our need for contatct and communication that a huge amount of modern technology is based on it, including the application, Facetime, for Apple. In order to use this application, the person you are sharing with needs to have the same operating system on their devise. I guess I am wondering if that’s partly what it means to be ‘made in the image of God’. Somewhere built into us, is an ability to connect to Our Divine Originator. For although we are different, we are not inaccesible to eachother.

To seek the face of God is to seek his Presence, though it is more than that. We are to understand that his Presence is everywhere. To seek his face is to make that connection. A moment of eye contact with the divine. An internal knowing. A flash of inspiration. To meet with his Essence.

I spent a long time this holiday in the presence of family and loved ones: from the youngest member of my family who has smiles and tears and noises instead of words, to the eldest who is perhaps tiring of them, to others for whom conversation is abundant. To be in their presence is blessing enough, but for our eyes to meet across the room, in acknowledgement, a laugh, a smile or a tear, that is surely is what makes us feel truly alive. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Facetime#2 - Knowing

I’d hazard the suggestion that the word ‘God’ is not hugely popular these days. Maybe with good reason, He’s got a bad rep from all the horrors and general faux pas done in His Name. Perhaps for a further reason … it all seems too specific, and look, I am already at it. How do I write about God? Do I call him a He or a She, an It? Do I use CAPITAL LETTERS? ‘inverted commas’… I am tripping over grammar, limited by words. It’s all too cheap and easy. Surely if God exists, we are talking about something too mysterious, too elusive to describe.

Yes. But.

The curious and at times dangerous golden thread of the bible and Christian thought is that there is a knowability about that Great Underpinning Entity of Existence. So I return to faces.

References to seeking the Name and the Face of God are metaphors that abound in the bible and do I believe, point to something important. That is, the Presence of the one we seek can be recognised, acknowledged and felt. Just like a face. So, in what way do we think we can know people?

Before we even start talking about God and the meaning of the universe, isn’t it amazing, the simple fact of being able to get to know and understand others? This is an incredible shared experience and, at the same time an ongoing process, that involves all sorts of brain gymnastics and sixth senses that we are largely unaware of. Beautiful. Natural. THE ABILITY TO RELATE.

Although we are different, we are not inaccessible to one another. We cannot claim to know or understand everything about each other, or even ourselves, but it is enough to start making sense of our experience. TO KNOW SOMEONE IS NOT TO OWN THEM, because it is not a completed process but a shared one. Facebook may own some facts about my existence but they don’t know me, they have not entered into the relationship.

This could be where we go wrong in religious circles. Bad religion claims ownership rights over God, GOOD RELIGION HELPS US ENTER INTO KNOWING. Which I am going to suggest, is not such an outlandish quest, if we could for a moment consider the idea that the Great I Am of the Universe is not entirely unlike us. If all things in the Universe are in some kind of relationship and come from somewhere that gives that meaning, perhaps it’s not impossible to know that unifying meaning, to have a built-in ability to recognise it and relate.

Psalm 27 ‘My heart says of you “seek your face!” Your face Oh Lord I will seek.’