April 4, 2020

Matthew 25, and verse 45

D Nneka_-_HeartbeatA reflection inspired by the official music video of Nneka’s “Heartbeat.”

4 April 2020

What is the cross? What does it mean here, now? I don’t mean theological formulations and dogmas. I mean to ask what kind of simple difference it makes to human beings there where they find themselves in this space at this time. Specifically, for those that our neoliberal world, and often I as complicit consumer, judge “the least of these.” What difference does the cross make to them that have no running water to wash corona away, or no data to access online lectures, or no insurance to access a ventilator?

I offer a loud, raw shout of resistance against promises of a better life some day after death. I protest the silencing of a billion stories of suffering by a billion versions of “paradise when you die.” Even I in my middle class existence have grown sick of it, seeing how it only perpetuates and denies the day-by-another-fucking-day of their slow and heavy survival.

What is the cross but the equally loud shout of resistance by God as God incarnates into that very suffering, taking it into God and seating it at the Right Hand? What is the cross but the reminder that God shares the incomprehensible, unsayable and indignant weight of suffering with the most vulnerable in the world? What is the cross but the reminder that God bears the shame of the world, not one long past day in Judea, but even this day? What is the cross but the suffering with, the bearing of the heavy cross, with this frail creation?

Or even… what is the cross but the human response to God’s suffering? What is the church but a human being emptying him-, her-, or zirself to share the suffering of God born by another human soul? What is worship but Simon bearing the cross of the Saviour?

It is Lent 2020 and the world is marching to Calvary. What am I doing here on my comfortable Ikea couch?

April 1, 2020

Fear

LGL 1How sparkling the drop on a leaf like my Hope hanging on and fearful of growing too glorious, remembering too loudly its traumatic plunge from unity, seemingly, and hanging on in terror and ignorance of the inviting, but patient, beckoning and reuniting fusion with its Source that awaits it as it will at once lose itself but remain, but lose itself gushing and bursting white towards sea, lightening and rising slowly and unseen towards its drifting, its gathering, its magnetism, its electricity, its thunderstorm.

Always one, yet at no (time) quite yet its next moment’s being.

My Hope,

Be not afraid,

Being ends never.

4 May 2010, Twinstreams, Mthunzini, South Africa

© Yolande Steenkamp

July 3, 2018

This…

via This…

What does confessing your faith mean to you? Sharing words of vocation by a fellow follower in Canada.

June 23, 2018

Our Deepest Question

(Sermon, Andrew Murray Congregation Johannesburg, 10 June 2018)

The baptism of Jesus

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11, NRSV)

The temptation of Jesus

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. (Matthew 4:1-11, NRSV)

I invite you to enter into silence for a moment. Try to briefly still the hustle of your busy mind, and let us together sink into a question that has haunted humanity throughout the ages. Present the question to yourself, “Who am I?” Allow it to be there, and refrain from providing a quick and easy answer. Try to sink into the question. If an answer does arise, see if you can allow yourself to go deeper, to whatever lies beneath the answer you gave. Allow the question to remain present, and see how present you can be with it. If another response surfaces, then repeat the process. See if there is anything that lies beneath that. See if you can go deeper. Is the question still present? How much deeper do you think you could go before you would find an answer that would be more pervasive than the question?

***

I’ve often wondered what enabled Jesus to live a life that is so different from ours. This is an important question, you see, because we are called to follow and imitate Jesus. Our faith in Jesus does not just denote a set of confessions about some messiah that is external to us and that promises us a life in heaven someday, almost like a kind of reward for following the right recipe. It goes far deeper than that. Our faith is something active and dynamic that wants to transform us, so that our lives display the same faithfulness that the life of Jesus portrayed, and so that we gain access to the kingdom of God that Jesus said is present with us here and now. It is for this reason that it becomes important to ask what enabled Jesus to live a life so different from ours. Today, we’re going to ponder this question from the perspective of the stories about the baptism and temptation of Jesus.

Researchers who study Jesus’ life from a purely historical perspective agree that Jesus seemed to have become a follower of John the Baptist before later beginning his own ministry. In similar fashion to Jesus, many people of the lower social classes followed John the Baptist in those days. These masses of people felt excluded from the official religious practices that were presented as answers to the difficult lives that they were forced to live. Apart from daily struggles with disease, malnutrition, and poverty, these people faced a religious aristocracy that considered them too impure to partake of the physical symbols of God’s presence on earth, such as the temple and its cultic practices. For this reason these people flocked to the desert to hear the “good news” of the kingdom and embrace whatever comfort they could find. While John the Baptist’s gospel was radical, it was a message of hope that the kingdom of God was not unreachable but near, at hand, and available to anyone who would devote themselves to it.

In wondering what may have been going through Jesus’ mind as he made the journey to John the Baptist to join this group of unlikely followers, we are of course left to our imaginations. We can make educated guesses, but we have no clear and direct historical information available to us. We do know, however, that Jesus was a peasant who lived among peasants. Nazareth was one of the poorest and smallest towns in Galilee. Ancient Mediterranean people loved to stereotype strangers, and they had particularly negative stereotypes about people from Galilee. We also know of Jesus that, amidst uncertainty regarding the identity of his father, he was probably regarded as an illegitimate child, and further pushed to the fringes. We can therefore form a picture in our minds of a boy growing up malnourished and as a social outcast, particularly aware of his not having a father. The figure making his way from Galilee to the Judean desert was, then, just as unacceptable as those who normally gravitated to John the Baptist were considered to be, hoping to find community among similar outcasts and “questionables.”

It is when we understand these circumstances of the middle-aged, fatherless Nazarene  that the descriptions of Jesus’ baptism and temptation become poignant and meaningful. I have chosen Mark’s version for the first, due to its simplicity, and Matthew’s more imaginative account for the second. If we keep in mind that the gospels envision the start of Jesus’ ministry as following these events, then it seems we may look at these stories to gain an understanding of what transformed Jesus from an outcast among outcasts to a bringer of good news.

It seems, indeed, that during his baptism Jesus found an answer to that basic human question of identity that we started out with, “Who am I?” The story tells this in an imaginative way – heavens and doves and voices to all bring across the fact that during this time Jesus had this question of identity answered. Specifically, the fatherless Nazarene found his identity established in God as Father, and it seemed that this realisation was at such a deep and decisive level that it changed Jesus’ life – and indeed we could say the world – forever.

Now we should pause for a moment and consider this talk of God as Father. We would be wise to remember that whenever we try to employ language to talk about God, we try to say something about the unsayable – God as that which completely transcends our world. It can’t be done. Yet we have no other choice, for we only have language. For this reason, we use images – metaphors and similes and allegories – that we do know something about and can describe, in order to say something about that which we cannot express. We describe God as shepherd, as host, as the planter of a vineyard, and as a father, with us as his sons and daughters. This sort of language makes sense in our world. We come together as men and women, have intercourse, and from this union is born our children. When we use this language to talk about God, it is not meant to be taken literally, because then we would need to start searching for a mother figure with whom God could have intercourse and bring forth a literal child. Rather, we use this language to express something about our intuition that God is our origin, that we have come from God, that we have proceeded from him, and that our being is dependent on him. The classic language in Trinitarian theology for this is “emanation” – that the Son emanates from the Father, and similarly the Holy Spirit emanates from both the Father and the Son. We can think of how light emanates from a candle as its source, or scent from a rose.

The point of all these metaphors is that God  is our source, and that we have no meaningful existence apart from God. Of course, we completely forget this as we are socialised in our world. We develop the idea of an “I,” and this “I” stands separate and apart from everyone else. Our consciousness of ourselves move easily into obsession with our supposedly separate “selves.” We become convinced that we need to establish an identity that will set us apart from everyone else. We suffer from the misunderstanding that we need to become someone, and therefore this fundamental question of who we are plagues us as long as we remain in this confused state, unable to see that the only identity that could ever be true of us is one that we have freely received, and that cannot be taken away from us: “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Put differently, as creations of God we are an overflow of the abundance of his love – for this is how the ancient fathers conceived of creation. We have emanated from God as our Source, and Paul helps us to understand that all that proceeded from God eternally returns to him. In God we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28), and from him, through him, and to him are all things (Rom 11:36). In other words, to say something about who I am is to say something about my Source – the God with whom I stand in eternal relationship, and apart from whom I have no existence.

Is this the realisation that enabled Jesus to live a life so totally different from ours? Is it that in the full and complete realisation of his relationship to God, Jesus was set free of the uncertainty that continues to plague us? That He was set free from having to try to be something or someone, in other words, and was content to submit his entire existence to his Father? The Gospel of John suggests that Jesus so identified with his Father that He experienced himself as one with the Father, making such claims as “he who sees me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Perhaps the question becomes, then, how different my life would be, and how available I would be for higher will to be done in and through me, if I was able to live each moment of my life in full recognition of who I am. How would things change if my security lay not in anything external to me, but in recognising myself as an emanation of God’s love, proceeding from him as expression of God’s being, which is love? Is that perhaps why the life Jesus lived was so radically different from ours, to the point that the grave could not hold him?

In looking at Matthew’s version of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, it is interesting that each seductive invitation of the trickster aims right at the heart of identity, each time testing what was affirmed for Jesus at his baptism. “If you are the Son of God,” the voice of temptation goes, “surely God would not want you to suffer such hunger, would He?” Or again, “If you are the Son of God, surely God would want to illustrate how special you are to everyone by sending his angels to catch you as you throw yourself down from the temple, wouldn’t He?” And “If you will worship me instead of God” – or should it be “If you will worship yourself as God,” – “then all these kingdoms will be yours – and wouldn’t God want his Son to have all things?” Or perhaps even, “If you are the Son of God, call on God to save you from the crucifixion and destroy your enemies. Surely God wouldn’t want his own Son to suffer such violent humiliation and death, would He?”

Why was Jesus able to withstand every one of these deceptive luring to prioritise his will over God’s? What enabled Jesus to be so different from me, who fall for such clever arguments of my ego as a matter of habit? Is it perhaps that Jesus knew, but that he really knew, what I am still trying to convince myself and the world of, needing evidence outside myself as proof that I am so radically beloved of God? Am I not perhaps like the stereotypical man with a midlife crisis who needs to buy a motorcycle or a speed boat in an attempt to prove to the world that “no, I am not growing old and no, I am never going to die”? We make fun of this stereotype, because we see the foolishness at the heart of it, and yet we’re blind to how often this sort of reasoning characterises our own lives and relationships.

How would life change for me if I lived as though I believed God’s response to my deepest question, namely “You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased”? What would I become free to do, and what would I become free not to do? Jesus told his followers that the Kingdom of God is among or within them. Could this perhaps refer to an entirely different quality of life becoming accessible to us when we again open to God’s response to our deepest question? Could it be that the “someday” heaven we are chasing “out there somewhere” becomes fully available here and now when I surrender ever more deeply to my identity as child of God?

If this is so, then every circumstance in our lives can become an invitation for us to sink more deeply into the knowledge of God as our eternal Source, and to live each moment from this conviction. We offer ourselves back to God as gift, just as God gives Godself to us. And so, God is all, and in all.

January 12, 2018

The Return

20171105_135604

12 January 2018

She came to me eventually, and like always, I was already waiting. Her ways were familiar to me. Her wanting to hide from the world and rest in her own embrace until it was enough and she could re-enter what most considered to be her life. By now she knew better, although even those who know may forget.

“You’re a sensitive soul,” I reminded her after a long moment of sharing silence. She always needed reminding. After all these years she still underestimated her openness, and the degree to which she felt … the degree to which things got to her, and the degree of silence she would eventually need to deal with it all.

She began to cry. Softly, and for no other reason than descending deep enough into her own earth to feel everything going on there. The multitude of it flowed slowly from her eyes, but she no longer needed to know how or why. It came and went and required no judgments, explanations or silly designations.

“You’re like the sea, sweet pea,” I offered. “You don’t have to understand why your waves rise or your currents change. You just have to allow and accept, and marvel at how a whole planet breathes for your sacred swellings, and at how life teems inside you and myriads keep seeking you out for no other reason than to gaze upon you until they feel a return to themselves.”

“Because you have, you know. You have returned to yourself, and you keep returning every time you stop questioning and resisting and trying to be ‘here’ instead of ‘there.’”

“Your patterns are sacred. They carry the wisdom of the many ages that have brought you to this point. You have found this and are learning to trust it, and that is why they come, these souls. They come because in the presence of someone who has returned they too may find permission to do the same. There is no mystery here, only the magnetism of home and the longing we all feel the moment we depart from where the treasure lies.”

We sat in silence for a long while, until I saw that she was breathing more deeply. Her face had softened into the beginnings of a smile as she became aware of the sounds and sights of the garden around her. I smiled too.

“I have loved you,” I told her yet again.

“Do you begin to see why?”

December 27, 2017

Fogg Dukkers

20171124_134434_HDROn windy days, the sea reaches out to you. You taste it on your lips, its salty sting delivering you to your true home, as though you had retreated to pray and encountered that elusive moment that reveals the point of it all.

There was a coffee shop I would go to in Canada, right by the seaside on Vancouver Island. They served coffee and sandwiches so big you’d have to squish and negotiate your way through your meal. No more than a shack held together by hospitality and shared stories, the place flaunted simplicity and humoured passers-by with its insistent lack of pretence. What it lacked in sophistication, it made up for with lavish heaps of heart and soul. When it wasn’t raining, visitors would huddle around a fire outside, either inherited or kindled by themselves, armoured with latte’s and anecdotes and hoping to catch a glimpse of orcas or sea lions.

The regulars showed up every day and were greeted by name. They kept returning, I suppose because that’s what their friends did. Once or twice when the staff had their hands full, I even saw a regular customer go behind the counter to refill their coffee. You could do that at Fogg Dukkers, the way you can at home.

During my stay in Campbell River, I felt myself repeatedly gravitating back to the little coffee shack on the rocks. I had been feeling lost, of late. Out of place, like something that had dropped from a basket and now made no sense there where it lay on the ground. It was during my long walks by the shore and the accompanying visits to Fogg Dukkers that I caught my first glimpses of who I was becoming. I would go there even after they had closed, grateful for the chairs left outside so that I had a spot from which to watch the dark night cuddling the Strait of Georgia.

A few days before leaving for home, I walked all the way from Dick Murphy Park on the northern edge of town. I was headed home, and I wanted one last taste of the place on foot. When I came to the street that would lead me away from the Sea Walk up to the house where I stayed it was already dark, but I knew I had one more stop to make before I could call it a day. My legs moved swiftly further South, and with the little shack appearing in the distance, I felt my insides leap as I saw the lights still on. That night I met another one of their regulars – a kindred soul in many ways. She sat writing letters, and we started chatting about how we both try to keep this dying art alive by writing friends and family. She had to be on her way, so she took my mailing address, we said our goodbyes, and I remained sipping my latte before I too left, walking back out into the night.

I feel the memory of Fogg Dukkers as a remnant to my soul, just like that day when the wind blew so wildly that I tasted the sea on my lips. I loved the place because it was held together by everything I value. I have to tell you about it, so that you will take your favourite people in the world with you and find it, and so that you will sit around the fire and hear your name on a stranger’s lips. Certain places help us open up to the home we carry inside ourselves. Find those places.

July 10, 2017

Idol

31 March 2017

That must have been what changed you

Nazarene of no name

no heritage

no future

no thing

 

Barely a moment

Parasite-infested peasant

Underfed, misunderstood messiah

Eternity shines into time

And no one can look into that sun

 

But I

Keep over-reaching

Over-covering this secret void

If only anyone

If only I

May be fooled

May cling for some saving moment

To this self-made religion

This makeshift, counterfeit temple

 

But you

Who was no one

And willing to be … no one

That must have been what changed you

 

But I

Keep patching up

Grasping at this crumbling sanctuary

And that must be what keeps me

 

Dying alive

 

Insisting

Fighting

Resisting

Transfiguration

July 10, 2017

Liminal

6 June 2017

I stood …

No longer here

Not yet there

… in No-Place.

I could not hold it for long.

Hence the screaming,

Doubting,

The agony in the garden.

Prayers for grace,

That this transition

Would be finally, tangibly effected.

Grateful praxis.

But not yet.

Tags: ,
January 2, 2017

To HaShem: A Dedication

A poem by Bora ben Elazar. Source: http://www.crowndiamond.org/cd/dedication.html

I found You in all of my memories:
There, beneath the sky, in rolling seas,
You filled my lifetime with the sound of Your Name;
And, now, I know it will always be the same.

Earth will last a moment before it dies.
Still, You’ll hold me deep within your eyes;
And through the endless span of Your gentle mind,
You’ll carry me: You won’t leave me behind.

Undiscovered, always, Your love for me:
Blossoming through all eternity!
The shoreline changes; it is never the same,
Yet here I stand, in the sound of Your Name!

November 18, 2016

Lament

18 November 2016, Advent

 

Day is dark and the nearest has become unreachable

Words crawl and clutch at meaning

Truth rumbles overhead but drifts away

Insight falls from the sky like dead birds

 

Hope soldiers on, as hope must

Love wails, crouched in a wheelchair

Faith noisily capitulates to her ventilator

The show must go on

 

See how Jerusalem is plundered

The maiden gnawing on the bones of her children

Emaciated leg spread from emaciated leg

Power and greed fight to take their fill

 

These are times to die alive

The prudent know to look away

The sapient learn to spare their tears

For blessed are the reckless

In these times of inversion

 

Except for a single central nervous system in agony

Bethlehem pierced on a hillside

Except for that