Hope

Hope is a dangerous thing.

A radical thing.

A subversive thing.

If you’ve ever looked at this world of ours and wished it could be changed, well, hope is what makes people like us believe we can change it.

It’s an odd sort of day, Holy Saturday. A day when nothing much really happens. The truth of yesterday, the uncomfortable, painful truth that our light and joy and whole reason for being has been sucked out of the world, is still true. But after all the drama and adrenaline of yesterday, today we’re left alone in our lostness.

The busyness – that’s all stopped.

The rest of the world – they’ve gone back to normal, back to the way it was before.

Before him.

Before anyone had ever heard of an upstart young carpenter from Galilee who said he was going to change the world, and who died trying.

In the emptiness left behind, perhaps today we come to terms with exactly who it was we loved and how much it was we lost.

But – has it really gone back to the way it was before?

I come from a tradition where on Holy Saturday we still come together. The people who sat with Jesus at his first Eucharist and his last supper, whose feet he washed, who went with him to the Garden of Gethsemane, and who stayed by his side at the foot of the Cross right until the veryend. On Holy Saturday, with Jesus lying dead in his tomb, we all come back together, in a frenzy of cleaning and polishing and baking and organising.

For what?

Time is a funny old thing during the Triduum. The Passion isn’t something you tell, and it isn’t really even something you relive. And this story we’ve been telling of things that happened in Jerusalem two thousand years ago isn’t a story, it’s a truth and that truth is Gospel. And that truth is something that we live. Every year. Over and over and over again, and for the very first time. Ancient and forever.

Today, God is dead.

On Holy Saturday, I don’t know what’s going to happen on Sunday.

Yet, here we all still are.

Because you can kill a lot of things, but you can’t kill hope.

A hope that is in the cleaning and the polishing and the hiding of Easter eggs, and in the improbable belief of an impossible resurrection that might – just might – happen anyway.

But a hope that is in so much more than that.

As we’ve gone through this week, the world has watched France singing hymns on the banks of the Seine to Notre Dame as she burned. After all the loveliness from the Eucharist had been cleared away on Thursday evening and the cathedral was stripped, I found myself standing still in the middle of the High Altar where, at that point, the presence light still shone, thinking about the people of Paris and the way they would have stripped their cathedral on Monday, trying to rescue it. And they knew that God was with them, even as everything was consumed by fire.

Our hope is everywhere.

It’s in refugees making their way across the sea in search of a better life.

It’s in campaigns for social justice in the Church and in the world.

It’s in people who start as strangers and end up as family.

It’s in Christians and Muslims and Jews coming together in friendship and peace.

It’s in people who stand up against violence, against racism, against the abuse of the vulnerable, against homophobia, against gender inequality and transphobia, against economic injustice, against climate change.

It’s in the blue light that comes with paramedics and firefighters, burning away the darkness.

And, yes, hope is in the people of Paris standing vigil with their cathedral.

Today our light and our joy and our reason for being is gone.

But here we still are.

Because you can’t kill hope.

And because that young upstart carpenter from Galilee who said he was going to change the world?

Well, there’s still a world here, and it still needs changing. A world that still needs to hear that cry of radical love and justice that is also the Gospel truth. A world that needs to be told that hope is not, was not, can never be dead.

A world that has been entrusted to us.

Christ has no body now but yours.

Be Still In The Presence of the Lord- Lent

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Feeling the tug at his elbow, he moved forward. His heart pounding hard, he stood there, hesitating on the threshold of the cathedral sanctuary.

“Come on!” Looking up to see where the voice came from, he caught a glimpse of a figure darting through the doorway opposite him.

He closed his eyes and leaped forwards,  plunging into the darkness. Eyes squeezed tight shut, he could smell the tang of sea air. Gentle fingers of breeze eased their way across his forehead. Counting to ten, he opened his eyes and gasped. It was the most beautiful sight to behold. Inches before his eyes a shimmering wall of water danced its way downwards, light sparkling and gleaming like bright jewels in the sun. Stepping sideways from behind the cascading wall of water, he climbed down and onto the hot sand. Eyes darting to and fro, he thought he heard the sound of laughter and singing. Or was that the waterfall? Then silence.

“Who are you?” he asked. No response. After wandering around for what seemed like an age, a tingle of fear crackled down his spine. The view was stunning and the breeze welcoming. But he realised that there was no sound. It was though the world was mute; he was mute. Rocks that should be home to puffins, herons, ducks, geese- all were empty. No birds sang from the trees or bushes. No music being played by the wind.

“Who are you?” He called out again into the shimmering horizon. “Why have you lead me here?” Silence.

Sitting on the edge of a steep cliff, he put his head into his hands. Without warning, thoughts and memories trickled into his mind, slowly at first, then faster and faster, beginning like snowflakes; building into an avalanche of the past. The weight of it was unbearable. Looking around him, there was nothing but the silence.

Then it came to him. That soft and gentle voice, caressing and soothing.

“Be patient, my beloved. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Be patient.”

The young man shivered uncontrollably in the hot sunshine. He could wait. He must wait.

And he began to pray.

Journey Into Stillness

The curmudgeonly old man from Jericho sat by the busy, dusty roadside leading from that great city. Sounds were magnified as women, men, children and animals bustled by him. Scratching life from begging, unable to see since birth, he was as blind to them as they were to him. He swore under his breath at the noise, the heat and the dirt, and cursed loudly at the mocking children. He had been shouting out the name of that crazy carpenter from the north (he had no idea why), only to be mocked and told to shut up by the crowd around him. The noise was unbearable and the heat more oppressive than he could remember it ever being.

Then it happened. The world fell silent. Crouching in the dirt, he trembled in fear at the sudden silence that pressed in on him. A cool, refreshing breeze swept over him. He heard a muffled voice and a name. An old, familiar name. “Son of Timaeus, what do you want from me?”  The old man opened his eyes. As he scrambled to his feet he saw the silhouette of a man, behind whom and from whom radiant colours blazed in hues of the brightest, rain washed rainbow. As the carpenter spoke, the old man saw the glory in those infinite eyes, brighter than the sun. He stared as Jesus carried on along his way, down towards Jerusalem. To Jerusalem, where the scent from the gardens of olive groves embraces the fragrance of the Madonna lilies of Old Jaffa before they waft out over the Great Sea…

Net curtains billow into the hushed room, flapping wildly. Her breathing is quick and rasping. Through the open window she can hear the distant sound of children playing and laughing in the street. The sweet scent of lilies wafts in from the garden. She cannot open her eyes. Even if she is able to, the bright, blue sky outside and the golden light caressing her wrinkled face will be enveloped in the grey, swirling mists of her blindness. The extent of her physical world is here, in this room.

Not long now. The doctors have left. An angel has arrived, bearing a silver bottle. As the lid is removed, the room is filled with the scent of olive oil. She smiles. She hears the rustling of thousands of feathers, and can feel the caress of a cool breeze on her face. Urgent, tender fingers touch this young woman’s brow. Be calm; be still. The oil is calming. Eyelids flicker open, the dark and the grey give way to the light. The figure appears to her as through a bright, summer cloud. The face staring at her is glowing like the sun itself. A myriad of colours dance and weave around them both. She laughs with joy, with peace.

In our busyness, in our quiet, in our illness and in our health, in our fear and in our joy; where is God in our lives? Do we listen or do we block?

Be still for the presence of the Lord.

The Gathering

DSCN3534Many years ago I awoke and made ready for the day ahead. Spirits soared at the prospect of ascending the lofty ridge towering high above Glen Kingie. My heart leapt in anticipation of standing atop Sgurr Mor to survey the wild and piercingly beautiful handiwork that has emerged from the celestial crucible. A herd of deer leapt with me. Rugged mountains plunged breathlessly into the depths of shimmering sea lochs as the gulls swooped silently below my feet. From the sparkling, tumbling burn I could hear an orchestra of sound as sunlight shimmered and danced on its bustling surface to the ambrosial conductor’s quickening tempo. Isolation amidst raw beauty- wind; sun; rain; river; sea; mountain ridge; the silence of solitude. A time of rejuvenation; of communion with God; of self-discovery.

By the end of the week the silence felt louder than the shrieking winds that seemed to slice through rock itself. My senses were heightened- high mountain grasses thrust skywards like individual spears of rusty red and burnished gold; the cold and hunger made for unwelcome bedfellows; the imposing flanks of Sgurr Mor appeared as monstrous tidal waves looming through the gray and damp mists, threatening to engulf me as readily as the wild beauty was ready to consume me. I felt alive, joyful, and afraid in equal measure.

Following Ash Wednesday, we take those first tentative steps into the lenten journey. Each year as I look inwardly and outwardly, I am reminded again and again of that heady sensation of fear, of joy, and of life I experienced in the mountain wilderness. I bring on this path my successes and my failures, my joys and my sorrows. Every year that we gather we are each drawn, week by week, closer and closer, to our own high mountaintop and to the parapet of the Temple where we feel the tension as our own failings meet with the path Jesus has set out for us to follow. I am not yet ready to gaze upwards at that blood encrusted cross- but at this early stage of the journey I give thanks for the gift of life and the people in it with whom I share its glorious mysteries. And I thank God for the gift of the Church in holding love, grace and forgiveness as lanterns to guide us.

He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Luke 4:11 NIV)

The Kingfisher

A small chalk-stream, narrowed by overgrowths of watercress, flows unsteadily between two fields.         In the spring air, a sparkle, a tiny firework – almost missed – skimming low: the kingfisher.

Eye is not deceived though mind says: surely kingfishers are large as thrushes?  But this is as small as a sparrow; as vivid as any spark exploding from a burning log, and indescribably blue.

If I lived in the white cottage beside the stream, I should find myself drawn irresistibly to the window, all day, in the hope … and yet, knowing that the urgency of wanting was not enough.

Something becomes possible in Lent: this waiting, and breath-held longing, is shaken out of focus.   Words on the page become suspended, untranslatable; space between time opens up for us. Through music, beyond stillness, the intention of Lent leads us imperceptibly closer to God. . .

But … like the kingfisher, the moment of transfixing brightness comes without warning:  we can only wait:  accepting that we cannot cause this through the power of will, nor the insistence of desire, but only, paradoxically, through the suspension of will.

And the meaning, as it will always be, lies in the waiting…