Archive for January, 2022

A New Appreciation of the Sacred

Posted: January 31, 2022 in Uncategorized

A New Appreciation of the Sacred

The fishing motif in Luke’s story this morning has traditionally, it seems, been regarded as a kind of recruiting slogan. Apparently, according to someone the US Army had at one time an invitation to be all you can be’. This sounds almost religious today. In traditional churchy language, it is regarded as a ‘call’, or a calling by God I guess to make it sound something special and spiritual. But, I’m not so sure about that anymore because it now seem in church circles to be about recruitment to one’s own congregation, bums on seats that think like me perhaps?

It is interesting to note however that this particular story by Luke doesn’t seem to suggest this recruitment is about ‘follow me’ because these words are only found in the version of the story
by those we call Mark and Matthew. And because we recognise a similar theme in Luke,
as Luke has obviously known about the existence of those stories, we do our own blending of all the stories, into one general story.

So, Luke, it seems to me, is saying something far more radical. Not about ‘call’ or ‘catching’ with all the different images associated with those words. But about coming to a new understanding, being captivated and swept of one’s feet. Being transformed perhaps?

Conversations with this story suggest that Peter and some of his friends are captivated by Jesus.
It’s almost like they are ‘swept off their feet’ by him. Both by being in Jesus’ presence.  And by the life-giving things he is saying. Ian McGilchrist might say that they have been confronted with what they already knew but have become aware and in attendance with ‘aha’ moment. This again is not about recruitment but rather about one’s awareness of what it means to be human and on a higher plane. The ups and downs of life the conflicts of thought, the battle for identity all gelling in the awareness moment of connecting the dots so to speak. This makes different his words “Don’t continue to be afraid. You will be restoring people to life and strength”. Its more than just believing because while belief is required it is not all, while responding the call is obedience or surrender it is not all. You see… for Luke, Jesus was a special human being and we hear more of that in the beautiful birth stories each Christmas. We hear that in this fishing story. And being special made Jesus different. But how was Luke to say that?

There is story by Jack Shea which Rex Hunt has quoted and I think it is worth hearing in this context as we try to get a handle on the Jesus Luke is talking about and trying to convince his readers to meet. The story goes; “Once upon a time, there was a very pious couple. They had married with great love and the love never died. Their greatest hope was to have a child
so their love could walk the earth with joy. Yet there were difficulties.  Since they were very pious, they prayed, and prayed and prayed. With that, along with considerable other efforts, lo and behold the wife conceived. And nine months later there came rumbling into the world, a delightful little boy.  They named him Mordecai. And the sun and the moon were his toys. He was outgoing and zestful, gulping down the days and dreaming through the nights. And he grew in age, and wisdom, and grace until it was time to go to the synagogue and study the Torah, the Law of God.

The night before his studies were to begin his parents sat Mordecai down and told him how important the Word of God was. They stressed that without the Word of God Mordecai would be an autumn leaf in the winter’s wind. He listened wide-eyed. Yet the next day he never arrived at the synagogue. Instead, he found himself in the woods, swimming in the lakes and climbing the trees. And when he came home at night, the news had spread throughout the small village. Everyone knew of his shame. His parents were beside themselves. They did not know what to do. So they called in the behaviour modificationalists who modified Mordecai’s behaviour, so that there was no more behaviour of Mordecai’s that was not modified. Nevertheless, the next day he found himself in the woods, swimming in the lakes and climbing the trees. So they called in the psychoanalysts who unblocked Mordecai’s blockages so there were no more blockages for Mordecai to be blocked by. Nevertheless, the next day he found himself again in the woods, swimming in the lakes and climbing the trees. His parents grieved for their beloved son. There seemed to be no hope. It was at this time that the great Rabbi visited the village. And the parents said, “Ah! Perhaps the Rabbi…” And so they took Mordecai to the Rabbi and told him their tale of woe. And the Rabbi bellowed, “Leave the boy with me, and I will have a talk with him.” Mordecai’s parents were terrified. So he would not go to the synagogue, but to leave their beloved son with this lion of a man… But they had come this far, so they left him. Now Mordecai stood in the hallway
and the Rabbi was in the study and he looked through the door at him and said, “Boy, come here.”

Trembling, Mordecai came forward. And then the great Rabbi picked him up and held him silentlyagainst his heart. His parents came to get him and they took Mordecai home. And the next day, he went to the synagogue to learn the Word of God. And when he was done, he went to the woods. And the Word of God became one with the word of the woods which became one with the word of Mordecai. And he swam in the lake. And the Word of God became one with the word of the lake which became one with the word of Mordecai. And he climbed the trees.
And the Word of God became one with the word of the trees which became one with the word of Mordecai. Mordecai himself grew up and became a great man. And people came to him who were broken inside. And with him they found healing. And people came to him seized with inner panic.
And with him, they found peace. And people came to him who were without anybody.
And with him they found communion. And people came to him, with no exits at all. With him, they found possibilities. And Mordecai often said, “I first learned the Word of God when the great Rabbi held me silently against his heart.”

The recruitment plane failed miserably because it was not aware of the transformation, it manipulated, encouraged, exhorted and belittled but it did not see that Mordecai was special. Nor did the call acknowledge that it is not in some holy or sacred place but in the midst of their ordinary everyday life that awareness happens. In doing what they did most days, sometimes with regular monotony, Peter and some of his friends were captivated by the presence of Jesus.

Just as Jesus was captivated by the Source and Ground of Life, he in his transformation called God. It was what made his story and his message the example of the divine relationship. In our time, with the collapse of belief in the traditional image of God (supernatural, interventionalist),
we have to find and be captivated by the sacred in a new place, in a new way. And the most convincing place of all will be our own human hearts. Not merely in some personal experience, decision or recruitment intervention  because as David Tacey puts it, that is “locked away in the closet of introspection” but perhaps rather the discovery of God in our interiority – heart and mind  
will be the basis for a new appreciation of the sacred in and of the world. Captivated in this way, may we as Michael Morewood puts it. May we always be a blessing to ourselves, and to others.

And may we ever give thanks for the wonderful gift of reflective awareness, the ability to humbly admit we know and now know more. So that we might truly recognise and name the presence of
a Creating Spirit beyond all imagining, in our universe.  (Michael Morwood). Amen.

Fear of life and living?

Posted: January 25, 2022 in Uncategorized

Fear of life and living?

One of the challenging things about parish ministry is captured in the biblical challenge that a prophet is never welcome in his or her home town. Towards the end of his second year of ministry, according to our storyteller Luke, Jesus found this out when he decided to go home to Nazareth for a while. Luke is a great storyteller and this liturgical year we will hear plenty of those stories. So, while this may be a ‘plus’, we also need to acknowledge it can also be a ‘minus’.

One of the pluses about being challenged by one’s home setting is that one own sense of self -importance is checked. The test of one’s faith is what William L Wallace reminds us that “there is no pain greater than not being able to be yourself. That true humility is not the putting down of the self but rather the putting down of roots into the earth, the cultures of the earth and the mystery which we call God. To enter the wilderness is to discover one’s true home. What you are seeking lies within you. No one can give it to you. All you have to do is to own it. The greatest achievement is to learn to be and to rest in that awareness. Abandon yourself to the otherness and you will find yourself in the process. Nurture the mystic within you for she is the guardian of the most sacred mysteries. She alone is the ‘you’ that cannot be destroyed; for her name is compassionate wisdom and her aspect is divinity. When you can see the divine in yourself You will be able to see the divine everywhere. When you reverence the divine in yourself You will be able to reverence the divine everywhere. When you nurture the divine in yourself you will be able to nurture the divine everywhere. Could this be what Luke is wanting us to know?

One reality of parish ministry is that the storyteller’s role is not to preserve historical reality, or facts but rather the role is more complex than that and we meet this in the story today. We might begin to explore this by asking some questions such as ‘What was happening in Luke’s community for this story to be told? And what is happening in our own stories – family, church, nation for us to hear and connect with this story? The encouragement of hermeneutics.

We are assured by biblical scholars there is no reason to doubt that Jesus visited Nazareth from time to time during his public ministry (Greg Jenks. FFF, 2007). It also seems clear that Jesus made Capernaum, a fishing village on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, his “operational base”. (Greg Jenks. FFF web site, 2007). On the other hand, Luke’s knowledge of the area, having never been there himself, was sketchy at best. He says Nazareth was built on a hill. Well, if it was, it has been moved! Actually, it’s on the slope of a hill.

“It was a tiny village clinging to the edge of its one small spring. There was no cliff over which the villagers might throw Jesus. Of course, having never visited the place, Luke was not to know that; just as most of his readers ever since have been unaware of the actual geography of Nazareth” (Greg Jenks. FFF web site, 2007).

We may conclude, then, this story is the product of Luke’s imagination “rather than a memory of some actual event passed on to him by others…” (Greg Jenks. FFF web site, 2007).

So, the first thing we can decern at the beginning of this exploration is that Luke is writing theology rather than geography or history.

Luke’s Jesus decides to return home. When he did, his people, many of them cousins and near relatives. They are people whom you would normally expect to be welcoming and accepting listened, and indeed liked what they initially heard. local boy made good. This could be good for the local tourist trade at least! But when they read between the lines and listened some more, especially when pushed a bit, they decide they can’t accept what he has to say. So, they react. this ordinary bloke, one of us, has great potential. But he comes making unrealistic demands, disturbing our fragile village comfortableness. And anyway, his views do not match our ideas of ‘God’ or ‘religion’. So, who does he think he is! Or more importantly: who the hell does he think we are! Well? Maybe it’s ‘better the domesticated Jesus at their personal disposal than the challenging Jesus let loose, perhaps even out of control! Sounds, very modern. Yet very old.

Kenneth Patton invites us to see this struggle we have when we have something important to share among our own. He says we are to locate our faith in the history of humankind to grasp a man’s his importance. He says: A man once lived who changed his mind about the world. He made a new set of answers about the heavens. He changed the location and the significance of mankind in the scheme of things. His mind was his free world, where he lived unmolested with his new answer’s. He lived in a new world, while all of his fellows lived in the old world still. He was not only wise; he was cagey. He knew that the world of religion and politics was not as free as the world he maintained in his head. He knew that his own mind was a roomier, saner, more charitable world than human society. So he kept his freedom and his answers to himself. His theories were published as he lay dying, when the angry priests and their torturers could not get to him. After all, why should he make himself the victim of other men’s stupidity and cruelty? They raged against him, but he was safe within the fortress of the grave. But while he lived, he maintained his freedom and chance to do his work by living within the fortress of his own mind. Since there was no freedom outside, he kept to his freedom within. His name was Copernicus. We named the universe after him.

Rex Hunt tells of a comment made years ago by one of his colleagues. Pauline Hanson was on the Australian political scene at the time. Quoting a political analyst, he suggested the rise of ‘One Nation’ (as a conservative political party) had a lot to do with the global movement of a ‘politics of anger’. “People are feeling so powerless against forces that seemingly cannot be controlled. Confused by the culture of change, no longer able to recognise the world they once knew, people are turning in anger against their politicians, against their leaders” (Keith Suter, quoted by Roger Wiig 1998).

So, were the actions of those in Luke’s story shaped by a ‘politics of anger’? Perhaps.  Or the more important question: what was happening in Luke’s community for him to decide this imaginative story was important for them to hear? How were they acting when faced with new or different ways of thinking and believing and shaping community?

Again, we can only speculate. Luke is a storyteller not an historian, and he doesn’t help us much. But it could have been something like… The people of Luke’s community, just like the so-called people of Jesus’ hometown, were puzzled and disturbed and anxious by the demands of the new and challenging vision of God’s domain.

This new domain was populated with outsiders, with outcasts, with exiles! It contradicted their normal notion of who belonged and who did not, of who was in and who was out! Its radical theology was that it discerned the holy or the sacred in the everyday! But Luke’s Jesus continues to nudge and persuade: God’s love is inclusive and embracing and universal, not exclusive. And no one, not even the so-called ‘God’s people’ should ever think of themselves as privileged. But were they ready to hear this or were their reactions going to be shaped by a “politics of anger”?

Likewise, an important question in the even broader expression of this story: how are we to be church and express being an inclusive community, today? Or indeed, in the face of the America exposed by the Trump administration: how are we to be an inclusive, multicultural community? It is true that there are many puzzled and agitated people expressing their viewpoints, and sometimes anger, on that broader issue even now! So how can our expression of community – church or family – help in this debate?

Luke’s story suggests a universalism underpinning life. Which could be summed up as:
God is as likely to bless an Imam as an Archbishop or some sort of interfaith symbolic reality. But I want to ask if this is the right way to go. It sounds as good as it has for many years but what of the outcome? What is proposed is a universalism which comes at a cost.  Then and now it cannot break free of its symbolic state.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his book ‘The Home we Build Together,’ writes: “Multiculturalism has run its course, and it is time to move on.  It was a fine, even noble idea in its time.  It was designed to make ethnic and religious minorities feel more at home in society, more appreciated and respected, better equipped with self-esteem and therefore better able to mesh with the larger society as a whole.  It affirmed their culture.  It gave dignity to difference… But there has been a price to pay…  Multiculturalism has led not to integration but to segregation” (Sacks 2007:3).

Maybe the Lukan universalism or “extravagant welcome – to all persons” whether in the church or in our wider community really is the only way to experience abundant life and be all that we can be “in our pluralistic and polarized age” (Bruce Epperly. P&F web site, 2007).

Margaret Lee and Brandon Scott offer a translation of the passage from Corinthians 13: 1, 4-8 that I think talks about a biblical universalism that is closer to this abundant life. If I were fluent in human and heavenly tongues, but lacked love, I’d sound like a hollow gong or a crashing cymbal… love takes its time makes itself good and useful  it doesn’t envy it doesn’t boast it doesn’t bluster  t doesn’t make a scene it doesn’t look after its own interests it doesn’t throw fits it doesn’t dwell  on the negative it takes no pleasure in injustice but is delighted by the truth love upholds everything trusts in everything hopes for everything  endures everything love never falls away

Meister Eckhart said “If a man asked life for a thousand years, “Why do you live?” if it could answer it would only say, “I live because I live.” That is because life lives from its own ground, and gushes forth from its own. Therefor it lives without ‘Why’, because it lives for itself. And if you asked a genuine man who acted from his own ground, “Why do you act?” if he were to answer properly, he would simply say, ‘I act because I act’.

It is possible that this universalism could or should be called, stop talking about it and love the world! Maybe this is Luke’s challenge and blessing, to and for us. If we can hear it amid all the other seductive calls and demands in our own backyard to just talk about the mess.

Sacks, J. The Home we Build Together. Recreating Cociety. London: Continuum, 2007.

The Genesis of Hope

Posted: January 17, 2022 in Uncategorized

The Genesis of Hope

The genesis of hope lies in the evolution of human relations and not in the achievement of success.

Despite the nearing end of the sixth extinction. Despite the looming polluted planet we call home. Despite the procrastination of monetarism, greed, power obsessed. Despite the uninformed individualized approach to what it means to be human a woman living in the slum area of a large city can still respond when asked by a news reporter what hope she has, living as she must. She can still point to her children and say: “They are my hope,” (Alves (adapted) 2011)

Kahlil Gibran reminds us of our participation in the evolutionary process of the species  when he says: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday

Born in love is an ideal, born to create the world they are born into the child is both responsible to itself and to its parents from the very beginning and the involvement of parent is primarily to ensure its neurological development is supported and not hindered. This is as both the mother and Gibran suggest crucial for the continuation of the human species.

To put this another way is to say that: a child explores the world with true wonder long before he or she understands what the adults mean by ‘holy’. That child does not need to be told in solemn pious tones ‘only God can make a tree’ before discovering the God-given thrill of climbing it, feeling its rough bark against his or her hands and face, sensing the joy of a new experience. Out of such experiences in the life of a child comes a quickened sense of self-worth, which has important ramifications for all relationships with other persons. This might suggest that the right hemisphere of the child’s brain is awakening before language; maybe even before other senses and that an innate sense of what it means to be human is already present. The imagination is already birthing perhaps. This makes what we do and say as parents is vital for the future of the human race. It also says that the bonding we talk about with child and mother is akin to the bonding between father and child because here is implanted the sense of what love is as opposed to fear, what love is as opposed to what many experience as trauma from the very first breath of life.

To try to put this into a faith journey context we might ask is this perhaps why the peasant sage called Jesus/Yeshu’a was also so affirming of children.

As you read or hear this and in the spirit of this celebration of children, I invite you to come on a journey of re-imagination. The biblical stories of creation and yes there are several, are not literal because they are already imagination driven stories, already shaped by the culture into which they are spoken or read. They are not mythical stories of the creation of the world, but rather mythical stories of the creation of humanity and thus children. I don’t know enough about education but I do think that we do our children a disservice when we impose what we think or believe upon them in ways that ignore, suppress and discredit what they already know about being human. We assume that the cognitive understanding or the left hemisphere is the only important part of being human and we distort their lives. Note I am not saying that many teachers don’t know what they are doing for most do and most are wonderful brilliant educators. What I am saying it that the environment, or the culture or the human systems we have developed can distort the purpose because they are measured within a dominating left hemisphere functioning world.

In a beginning… At the start of every life, an environment must be created favourable to life and not just knowledge or achievement, or success. Otherwise a child’s surroundings would have no form or shape and would be empty and unoccupied. We are adults must be responsible with what we have learned about the frailty of the human species to prepare it for a living child. And God said: ‘Let there be light…’ All through their life, children will be faced with a mixture of light and darkness. The child comes from the darkness of the mother’s body into the world where the light hurts its eyes. But light is good for the baby and all children must have lots of it all their life. Adults must see to it that the lights are turned on so the child’s life will not be lived in the shadows of a darkened world.

And God said: ‘Let there be a dome…’A child must have support when born,
not because they don’t know but because they have yet to know the complexity of applying what they know by instinct, just as the planets must be supported in the sky. And even though a child’s prenatal experience in the mother is a water event, the actual birth sets the child upon the solid earth. They have experienced the sharpness of evolution and this earth, its water and its atmosphere will be the child’s home as long as the child lives. And here is the greatest traumatic event. It is here, on earth, that the child must learn to live just as other forms of life live on the earth and in the sea. Because this earth is the only one we have.

And God said: ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation…’ It is important a child be provided with a total environment favourable to healthy development. This means green grass, plants, trees, and all kinds of fruit, for healthy nourishment. A child’s life cannot mature properly where the world of rivers, lakes and bush lands have all been changed into asphalt and brick, polluted streams and poisoned foods. A total environment must be given every child with nature’s surroundings at their finest and best. Not because it is nice and sensible but because it is crucial for the species. And God said: ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures…  Here again within the reality of evolution every child needs to know animals, what their kind is, and put a name on each, as though each were a person. And from this the child will have a ‘reverence for life’ – life of all kinds for this is a part of the world of nature and part of their own nature. Here we have the most important learning for adults today. It is that we need to relearn so we can teach that the reverence for life makes no distinction between more precious and less precious lives.

And God said: ‘Let us make humankind in our image… A person is not ‘made’ all at once but is ‘grown’ from a baby. Each child is born with a creative potential which becomes known as the child develops talents and abilities to apply what they already know. And while this earth and everything in it is the child’s domain, each child must see to it that the balance of nature is maintained; food is provided for all earth’s people, and life be made better for all living creatures.

As adults we must see to it that all children are given this birthright and this heritage – to be able to live life fully, and to develop their capabilities to the fullest, ever mindful of the responsibilities, since we all walk this earth – its future and the future of God is in our hands.

We have evidence now that the early stages of life are seldom entirely outgrown. Rather, they become the platforms on which further stages of development are built. The challenge is that they seem to need to be supplemented by overlays of new levels of information that will shape the patterns of life. And that we today as adults are involved in work that is more important than we thought. The task for us is to count it a privilege to walk with our children and grandchildren,
our nieces and nephews. Sure we can offer to shape their beliefs but never as absolute truth because we know that our beliefs will also be reshaped by them. As Gibran reminds us “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you…” (Gibran 1926/1969:20)

The wise among us call that wisdom. And let us enable our children to wonder… “out of the mouths of babes”. “We are collections of long-nurtured solutions that have worked. It took a long time and a lot of editing to make every one of our molecules. As offspring of such a long streak of inspiring successes, let’s allow ourselves and our children and grandchildren to live as humans.

Rex Hunt tells of a poem he found in 2005. It is called: “A Short But True Story of You”. And I have adapted it slightly to make it a daily prayer to a child.

You are made of star-stuff.
You are related to every other living thing on Earth.

You breathe out a gas that gives life to plants,
and plants breathe out a gas that gives life to you.

You are part of a wonderful web of life on a planet spinning in space.
When you die, someday, the elements of your body
will become a part of clouds and crystals,
seas and new living things.

You can think and wonder, love and learn.
You have the gift of life. 

Let you and I remember all children and commit ourselves to
their growth and safety,
their health and education,
their uniqueness and
their unfolding beauty.


Alves, R. Tomorrow’s Child: Imagination, Creativity, and the Rebirth of Culture. Eugene. Wipf & Stock, 2011.
Anderson, L. & C. Brotman. Kid’s Book of Awesome Stuff. Biddeford. Brotman Marsh-Field Curriculums, 2004.
Fleischman, P. R. Wonder: When and Why the World Appears Radiant. Amherst. Small Batch Books, 2013.
Gibran, K. The Prophet. London. Heinemann, 1926/1969.

“When the Beer Runs Out”

Posted: January 10, 2022 in Uncategorized

“When the Beer Runs Out” or the Wedding as an Expression of Community Love”

The Epiphany season of the church year, as we shared last week, traditionally celebrates the ‘showing forth’ of Jesus. In our everyday contemporary language we could say we have come to the time to return to work, Covid willing that is? We could also say that the time of partying is almost done and we could say that Epiphany is about ‘going on a journey, searching’. During Epiphany we often hear a collection of stories: of the Magi or Eastern Intellectuals arriving to broaden one’s horizons. It is already the time of the baptism of Jesus, the marriage feast of Cana, and the so-called calling of the first disciples. The Cana story is surely one of the most charming in all the Bible. And let’s remember that John is the only one to tell this story. The wedding itself would have been a great social occasion. A celebration probably for the whole community. We don’t know how many days the party had been celebrating when the wine ran out. Weddings were traditionally occasions for festivities lasting a week or more. Relatives sometimes traveled great distances, and friends and neighbours poured in. It was a communal event in the life of the community. All the usual one-up-man ships etc etc. And the groom’s father usually paid the bill!

So how did the story survive in the tradition till the time of John’s gospel? Why did not one of the other evangelists pick it up? How indeed does it fit in John’s gospel? Well! There are no easy answers to any of these questions, though perhaps all one has to say is that it is a great story, so why not use it. The question is just what meaning can we give to it?

A lot of theological ink and perspiration has been spilled on that subject. Perhaps the most obvious but not always offered meaning we can give it, is: Jesus by his attendance at the feast endorsed feasting and singing and dancing and human sexual love. And just in case I am opening some doors here let’s remember that the puritans, prudes, and party-poopers will try to tell us otherwise, Their Jesus was a no- human saint after all it seems. Andrew Greely would say they; “have never been to a Jewish wedding.” For others, such a meaning is just too human. They claim we should take this story as written testimony to Jesus’ powers over the laws of nature. He has somehow miraculously violated the laws of fermentation and instantaneously turned plain old tap water into wine of the best available vintage. And on the surface maybe this would be enough for this story. But! And here’s the rub. John never calls any of the signs Jesus performs ‘miracles’. This is in spite of what some English translations of the Bible would have us believe!

To John, these are ‘signs’ not nor natural events, and signs are objects or gestures with one meaning that suggests another. They are signals of the coming metaphor. In the story of the wedding feast at Cana we meet Jesus celebrating… Yes, celebrating the joyous human event of marriage with a young couple, their family and friends and neighbours. So, it is with us.
We will continue to meet Jesus in every ordinary event in our lives. Good and bad. Joy filled or grief stricken. And when true love travels on a gravel road it is an all-inclusive loving, no one is excluded and love is a real human event of living. Yes, it is the celebration of sexuality and it is withing the context of being fully human, Beer runs out! Rex Hunt shared a moment when reading a colleague‘s comment on this passage. His interest was sparked when at the conclusion to the story of the Prodigal Father, his colleague commented on the wedding feast at Cana and he was surprised and intrigued!  Remember… in the story of the Prodigal Father, the father pleads with the older son to join in the celebration, and the son replies: ‘Listen!  For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so I might celebrate with my friends’ (Luke 15:29).  This colleague then suggests: “We can safely assume the son is not lying.  If our Christian life has the character of ‘working like a slave’, ‘never disobeying’, never being able to celebrate with our friends, what have we made Christianity into?  Not only do those outside miss out on the celebrations, we too have lost what is the essence of our faith”.

This is a very big challenge to some fundamentals of our faith. Relying on belief systems, or belief itself. Accepting that fear is a valid driver of a loving world, identifying the Jesus Way as an exclusive way and indoctrinating our faith is in question is it not? We are told by John that this was Jesus’ first sign… A sign of how and what God through Jesus is ever trying to show us. That grace-type events are everywhere. Divine spirituality is even in common or unlikely places. Love and grace are meant to overflow freely for everyone. Not just is some rarified New Age sacredness or fundamentalist religion. Not just is some ‘totally’ other. But also lurking in the midst of the grace-full events of secular human life that ordinary people enjoy. James Taylor and Ian Harris might argue that the events of secular life are in face the divine events. That a spirituality of the secular might be better understood as what Incarnation is all about. Incarnation’ is when grace overflows freely for everyone, and it is said people come running…

To tell another Rex Hunt story. “It was about 2.30 in the morning. A young minister – first year out of college – called Tony, was still struggling with his sermon… He just couldn’t get his thoughts together. “I’ve just got to have a break”, he said. So, he went for a walk to a local roadhouse to get a cup of coffee. As he sat finishing his coffee at the counter, three blokes – three homeless blokes – came in. One of them in a kind of half-drunk voice said to the others: “Tomorrow’s my birthday”. One of his mates responded sarcastically: “So what?” And they had a cup of coffee and left. Tony found out from the roadhouse owner, Harry, that these blokes came to the roadhouse every night at the same time, and the chap celebrating a birthday was named Rob. Tony asked Harry if he would help set up a birthday party for Rob. Harry agreed. Early the following morning, the roadhouse was filled with party decorations. Even a birthday cake. Several other people had heard about the party and had come in off the street.

When Rob and his mates came in, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to him. And when the candles on the cake were lit, he was speechless. When it came time to cut the cake, Rob asked to take the cake with him to admire. No one had ever given him a cake before in his life. After the party was over, there was an interesting conversation. Harry leaned on his elbow on the counter  and looked across at Tony and said: “I bet you belong to some church”. Tony replied: “I belong to the church that celebrates birthday parties for bums at 2.30 in the morning”. Harry looked at him and said: “If I could find such a church, I’d join it in the morning.” When the beer runs out!!


Imagination as the Art of Truth

Posted: January 3, 2022 in Uncategorized

Mary Oliver gives us a poem titled ‘What Can I Say’ that I think talks about the Art of imagination

What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.

This brief exploration I have called a sermon is based on the following assumptions: That; ‘Imagination’ is the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses. That ‘Art’ is the primary concern with human creativity and that ‘Truth’ is the state of being real, whatever real means? Already a few words come to mind such as ‘Almost’, ‘as far as’ ‘I think’ ‘for now anyway’. These words highlight the idea of imagination as the way in which we transcend history, culture and time and come to the stories like todays with integrity, openness and confidence that the hermeneutic or our interpretation is an act of imagination and creativity that is the ultimate task of humanity as it participates in creation so to speak. I might say this is the creative spirit sharing in the individuation of God and humanity as Jung might have indicated and as John Caputo introduces as insistence.

The image of the wise men from the East kneeling before the infant child, offering their gifts, has been an inspiring symbol of worship for countless generations. ‘As with gladness men of old…’‘We three kings of orient are…’ The story, itself, has always fascinated people because it links Jesus to the wider world of the orient and to the mysteries of the heavens. Yet it is only the storyteller Matthew who tells for us the story of the Magi who come to visit Jesus.

This story has been richly embellished over the years. The number of the Magi is not given in Matthew’s story. In Christian imagination they have ranged from two to a whole cohort. But in most of nativity art, from earliest times to the present, there are three. Which seems natural that three gifts should have three carriers! And anyway! could all those crib sets be wrong?

This question of numbers may seem to be a bit of trivia reserved for Trivial Pursuits evenings and dining with pious clerics. But the conversation definitely heats up when someone suggests that the number was zero! That the story of the Magi is only ‘legendary’.

We may even remember the names that Christian imagination has given them. I can tell you now they were called: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Astrologers, magicians, philosophers?
Philologists and storytellers hold differing opinions. One tradition has it that the name Gaspar comes from Persian and means something like “treasure keeper” or “treasurer”. Gaspar is often depicted in images as an African with dark skin colour and presents myrrh as a gift. Myrrh is a symbol for humanity and is in some interpretations also associated with the later suffering of Jesus. Melchiorre is a Jewish name and stands for “King of Light”. He has European characteristics and brings gold as a gift. Gold is considered the most precious commodity worthy of a king, the Son of God. The name Balthasar also comes from Hebrew and means “God save his life” or “God will help””. Translations of the name from Ancient Syrian also read “God save the king. It is associated with an Asian origin. He carries incense, which is considered a divine symbol.

However; returning again to our nativity cribs and Christmas cards, there is no suggestion as to the mode of transportation is offered in the Matthew story. Contemporary storyteller and Catholic theologian John Shea, suggests: “The Magi may be dubious as historical facts, but in the Christian tradition they have been credible bearers of rich insights into strange ways of faith…  The story became more a springboard for the imagination than an anchor for sober reflection” (Shea 2003:130).

Indeed, he goes on to further suggest that the Magi of popular poetry and story do not claim to be authentic interpretations of Matthew…  Yet they do try to tell the truth about some of the common patterns of our lives.  They try to make good on the Isaiah promise that is connected with the feast of the Epiphany. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone’.” Our imagination is tempted again to address the question of just what concepts, images and thoughts are these ‘Magi of popular poetry and story’ inviting?

G. K. Chesterton wrote an essay on three modern wise men. In it they journeyed to a city of peace, a new Bethlehem, where they offered their gifts. The first would offer gold suggesting it could buy the pleasures of earth. The second would offer the modern scent of chemistry –
the power to drug the mind, seed the soil, control the population. The third would offer myrrh in the shape of a split atom – the symbol of death for anyone who opposed the ways of peace. When they arrived, they met Joseph, but he refused them entrance. They protested; “What more could we possibly need to assure peace? “We have the means to provide affluence, control nature and destroy enemies?” Joseph whispered in the ear of each individually. They went away sad.  He told them they had forgotten the child.

There is another legend that the Magi were three different ages. Gaspar was a young man.
Balthasar in his middle years. Melchior a senior citizen. When they approached the cave in Bethlehem they first went in one at a time. Melchior found an old man like himself.
They spoke together of memory and gratitude. The middle-aged Balthasar encountered a teacher of his own years. They spoke passionately of leadership and responsibility. When Gaspar entered, a young prophet met him with words of reform and promise. The three met outside the cave and marveled at how each had gone in to see a new-born child, but each
had met someone of his own years.

And Black poet Langston Hughes plays upon the theme of racial unity in “Carol of the Brown King”. “Of the three Wise Men Who came to the King, One was a brown man, So they sing.

“Of the three Wise Men Who followed the star One was a brown king
From afar… And the last verse: “Three Wise Men One dark like me –
Part of His Nativity.”

The imaginative stories around the Magi bring us opportunities across the depth and breadth of interpretation and through imagination offer us an opportunity to share in the remembering and celebrating as well as the concerns which is the season of Epiphany. From the ‘aha’ moments of awakening surprise and amazement to the challenging earthshattering confusions. This change, things are not always as they seem, there is always an alternative, absolutes are elusive.

Thanks to the poets among us, those legendary foreigners from the East can be our spiritual guides today.  For they crossed the boundaries of geography, ethnicity,
class, economics, and religion, to follow their star. We have all been given our own star or, better still, each of us has a “personal legend”. As others have said… we embody God’s dream for the world in a unique and singular manner… “We acknowledge this awesome mystery embodied in every human person, aware that each gives God unique and personal expression” (Morwood 2003:20).

Epiphany calls us to follow that dream into unlikely places and to see that dream in unlikely and ordinary persons. To see our imagination as the serendipitous opportunity to enter the sacred activity of celebrating what it means to be human and loving. Amen.

Morwood, M. 2003.  Praying a New Story. Richmond. Spectrum Publications.
Shea, J. 1993.  Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All Year Long. New York. Crossroad