run

Sometimes things happen in church.

Tonight, as I stood at the altar, saying the prayer of offering, someone entered the worship space and I froze. It was the way he entered, coming in fairly quickly, not walking forward to one of the altars, or coming towards the sanctuary to join us. He cut across, to the fair aisle, the hidden aisle, the place of greatest shadow. He had a hood raised, and a large puffy coat unzipped, but wrapped around him.

It might have just been a wanderer, someone seeking shelter. But it felt wrong, and I was very aware that there were only three of us at the eucharist tonight, all way up by the altar, and he was out of sight. I watched as I said the prayer, and tried to asses options.
There was a moment, just a moment, when I saw him moving and I came within half a breath of saying ‘Run! Into the sacristy. Now.’ But I wasn’t sure yet — so I did something else instead.

I left the altar and walked towards him — and towards the light switches, because we had been lulled by a light evening into too much carelessness. I think I said to the others, ‘stay here.’ I certainly thought it, and they did.

I spoke towards him, saying loudly, ‘let me give you some light, so you can see better.’
He walked towards me and said, ‘is it alright that I am here? Can I stay?’

I relaxed a bit, and said yes. He was welcome to stay to pray or for some quiet. We would continue the service. I returned to the altar and began the eucharistic prayer. He sat in a pew. Then shifted, and wandered again. He came up into the choir where we had been before we moved to the altar. I called ‘you are welcome to join us here.’ And then realised — there were handbags. He suddenly walked out.

And as I said ‘handbags’ to the congregation, one realised hers was missing, and ran like a flash after him.

‘Don’t go alone. Don’t put yourself in danger,’ I said as I too ran from the altar to follow her. By the time I caught up, they were on the path, and she had confronted him. She took her bag off him, and he did not resist.

We were very lucky. Had he wanted to harm us, he could have. For some reason, he seemed unclear of his own desire.

But later — once the adrenaline was gone — and once I had shown the tiny Tuesday night congregation where the hidden exits were, and told them that if I ever gave them a command to ‘Go’ they must obey. Into the sacristy. Lock the door. My phone will be in my bag or on the desk. Better one person in danger, and three people safe with a phone than all at risk. They must go. But later, I wondered…

What happened that Maundy Thursday night?

What happened when the soldiers came for Jesus?

I have always, always preached this as betrayal. The disciples scattering. Fear overcoming love.

But what if he wanted them to go? What if they were right to flee? Run. Scatter. Dissolve into shadows.

What if Jesus walked toward the cross, not desolate or afraid, but thanking God the others had all gotten away?

 

This was also posted on wonderfulexchange.

Choose

‘Today, I have set before life and death, blessings and curses,
choose life, that you and your descendants may live.’ 

This was one of those days when the sermon was going to happen on a wing and a prayer. The alarm goes off. You look at the lectionary app so that you can plan in the shower. You hope for the best.

Choose life, so you may live.

The relief flooded over me. A text I love. A text that always speaks. I knew, by then, the sermon would take care of itself. But it was more than that. This was once again the gift: choose life.

I was first given this text by a nun who didn’t quite know what to do with me during my first Retreat in Daily Life. I was given it again by a nun who did know what to do with me during my second Retreat in Daily Life. The first nun couldn’t cope with my saying, ‘I understand, but I don’t know how.’ The second one could.

Choose life.

We cannot actually take it for granted that we know how to choose.

For me, I had chosen very early on. I had chosen to survive. And that choice did away with any niceties of preference. To survive, you learn not to want what you want, so that you are not disappointed by what you don’t get, till the whole notion of choosing falls away. This was all a long tine ago now. Old wounds mostly healed. But that is why this text rings like a sharp bell, cuts like a two-edged sword, opens a vast space of yearning, even as my throat catches in fear. ‘Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.’

If you are a survivor, you will know: to choose life is to let go of survival. It is to choose risk, to risk death, to risk pain, and (worse) failure. To choose life, you will have to learn, first, to feel.

‘Choose life’ is always a knife edge — the quickening tears, and the quickening hope that life is worth choosing.

And yes: there could be curses.
And yes: you may choose badly.
But look: you can choose. Choose life, and choose again.

There is no other way we can have freedom, and no other way we can find joy.

I’m still not sure I know how to choose life.
There are still many days I forget, or choose badly, or get stuck in the habits of survival.

But sometimes, life comes. And I get to choose it: and it might be painful; and it might be beautiful; and it is always good.

Spirograph

Spirograph.

The first experience of meditation.
An early glimpse of beauty coming from chaos.
The memory of young rage and disproportionate sorrow, when beauty was almost achieved but went spinning out of control.

Spirograph: a lesson in being human.

Yesterday, a friend was hunting for Lent Blogging ideas and I suggested ‘forty words that quicken or express your hope in God’. It was meant for her, not me, but I woke thinking: Maybe?

I was thinking of words like spaciousness, wonder, ellipsis, kavod — I was thinking avocet, lapwing, purr. Nowhere, in all my imagining, was the God-word spirograph. And yet, there it is.

I had just set a class to doodling, asking them to keep the pen moving, while thinking about what it felt like when the weight of the world fell on your shoulders because someone, somewhere, had convinced you that you were supposed to be perfect.

It was hard for them. They are not used to be asked to draw what they feel or to use drawing to help figure out what they feel. They were too young for irony, and couldn’t spot the raw data in the room.

So, I gave them a prompt: you can start with a circle, if you like. See where it leads you. And suddenly, pens were whirring round. And suddenly, the headteacher was whispering to the teacher in the corner — remembering the hours she spent as a child, that thing, with the circles spinning round. How she loved it. What was it?

Spirograph. It was my childhood too.

The liturgical year is a gift of circles — a spiralling round that grounds us in God. And each year that passes, I am more grateful for the memories that flood, at each pancake party, of every other pancake party. That moment, in a too small kitchen, with a too large crowd, when a person with a hot pan, and a person with a wet dish nearly collide, and instead, spin and turn. The trust that comes; the awareness of something unspoken that bind you; the dance of the body of Christ.

Ash Wednesday brings different memories, of all the selves I’ve been. The years when I ran eagerly towards Lent, looking for growth, expecting healing — young, and naive, and sure that God would come gloriously. The years of loneliness and exhaustion, when Lent was a task of faithfulness, God long since hidden, disciplines lost to the struggle to survive.

It’s all there, every time. Every person, every feeling, every hope for God.

And sometimes, it seems the circle comes round, and we get to begin again.

Spirograph: the gift of childhood.
First Meditation.
Infinite longing.
Beaty from Chaos.

 

This was cross-posted on wonderfulexchange
Just finding our blogging feet again.

Maybe?

We might be back after long years of silence.

It might take us a while to remember how to do this writing thing. (Me at least)

We are started deliberately roughly — just to break the ice.

If you want to join in the old beloved communal project, let me know…

Salvation’s Song

Miriam led Mosheh to the edge of the Reed Sea. ‘Are you sure, sister? Can you do this?’

Once, once before she had tried to turn the tide of a river, to change the flow of the reed bed to make a bit of dry ground. It was nothing more than a dare to herself — to see how much she had learned of how the current was shaped. And then, it was a tiny flow, and small inlet. She surveyed the mass of water ahead of them. ‘Yes, if God is with us. And who knows, brother, there may be time for your wonder working too.’ She sounded calm, poised, but in her head, she prayed: ‘God, if you would give him frogs and gnats and plagues, give me this: wisdom, wit and a few well placed sand bars.’

God smiled at her daring.

She watched the wind bend the reeds, and said, ‘Quick, follow me.  And say to them: “walk where I walk, step where I step.  Do not hesitate, or change the path.’ Moses spoke to the Israelites, and Aaron did the same.  Miriam set out into the waters, ‘And brother? Remember: walk where I walk…’

Mosheh realised he was the weak point in her plan.

Miriam crept and leapt and ran through the reeds as the currents demanded. As they followed, the waters shifted: responding to their presence, adapting to the new disturbance in the flow. Miriam led them out into ever deeper waters, and then found them a resting place where the reeds grew thick.

‘Wait here!’ she cried. ‘Mosheh! Aaron! Tell them to wait here and you come with me.’

Miriam ran not across the sea, not towards their goal, but straight into the river’s source. To the top of the sandbank, where the water split around the raised bed of the sea. The people could see them — if she was lucky, they would be able to hear them too. ‘Mosheh, tell the people: “I am going to strike the sea with my rod. When the dry land appears, run. Run to the shore.’

This rod that brought vipers, Miriam whispered, let it bring life. 

Mosheh called to the people. ‘It is time. God will save us. I will strike the sea and you must run. Run as fast as you can. I will see you on the other side.’ The people looked out at the still pools of water ahead of them — the deep pools of water, that they knew they couldn’t cross, and wondered where Mosheh had taken them. But the Egyptians were closing in, and a rumour began: better to die than to go back! They prepared to run.

Mosheh was fearful.  ‘Miriam?  Will this work?  Am I really going to strike the sea?’ He liked it better when God spoke through burning bushes, than when God spoke through his eldest and bossiest sibling. ‘Yes, Mosheh. You will. But Aaron and I will be with you, and we must stand firm and spread our cloaks wide. Angled, there… like this!’  Miriam got them into position.

Mosheh raised his staff and prayed to God. He felt the winds stirring as he spoke. Miriam watched the current, and judged the angle of the flow. She leaned far out to catch the edge of the current. ‘Now, Mosheh, now! Strike the water.’

Moses brought down his staff, and the people prepared to run. Miriam watched as the current bent around them — not parting over the sandbank as it usually did, but curling around towards the Egyptian shore. Miriam knew they didn’t have long before the waters swirled back and the whole sand bar would be undermined.

‘Tell them, Mosheh. Tell them to run!’

And the Israelites saw the dry land appear. At first, they were too shocked to move, but then one of them understood what was happening and shouted, ‘This way! Follow me! Run!’ The Israelites fled across the sudden sandbanks, the ever changing reed bed, finding dry ground.

Quickly! Miriam prayed. She could feel the water swirling behind them. The sandbar was beginning to give way

As the last of the Israelites approached the shore, Miriam said to Mosheh ‘Lift your rod and flee. Get to dry land!”  And she followed behind them, pausing only to thank the water.

As she turned, she could see the Egyptians approaching. They horses swam out towards the river’s swirl.

‘Turn back!’ she cried to them. ‘You will never make it.’ But they rode on and the water hooked around the horses hooves. Miriam would never forget the scream of the first horse as it fell. Remember, little one: she whispered arks are not the only way.

Miriam reached the shore where the Israelites watched as the sea swallowed their oppressors.  Miriam hated the devastation they had caused — but she didn’t want the people burdened by the weight of it.  So she did the only thing she could: she re-told the story.

Miriam took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’

The people joined in the song, and cried out their relief to God. They had escaped the Egyptians. They were free.

But God saw the tears that Miriam wept as she danced. God joined in the counterpoint: There is salvation, Miriam. The ark is not the only way.

She heard God’s whisper and laughed as she cried and danced.