Tuesday 29 March 2022
Saturday 26 March 2022
Saturday 5 March 2022
Having just posted my last reflection, the pinned tweet at the top of the twitter feed of Michael Sadgrove (a retired Dean of Durham) popped up:
Not to give in to despair, denial or fantasy, but to accept that the present is what it is, to do all we can to work within it for good, & to nurture the imagination to glimpse the possibilities that point to a future of better things for our world, our peoples & ourselves.
This seemed to me to be clearer than I had been about the way suffering and glory are in inextricable intermingled.
The shorter first part of his sentence is about facing difficult flawed painful inevitable reality as it is – not seeking to escape by giving up (despair), ignoring it (denial) or wishful thinking (fantasy).
The second longer part of his sentence is about looking for hints of the potential of glory in there as well (although he doesn’t name faith or God explicitly) – working with and nurturing imagination, glimpses, possibilities.
It turns out that it is Christian hope he talking about, as a twinned tweet makes clear:
Trying (struggling) to find a way of expressing hope that’s realistic rather than fanciful in dark & dangerous times.
Something further clarified by his comment on this:
To own up: I find a lot of the talk about “hope” is unexamined & lazy, no more than a vacuous kind of wishful thinking or cup-half-full-optimism. Far from being grounded in present reality, it is rather a flight from it. Spiritual leaders have a special responsibility here.
The language I’ve most often valued is that of Gospel possibilities (‘In this mess, following this mistake, faced by this cruelty, knowing this sabotage to our hopes, what could be the next Gospel inspired step?’) and Kingdom seeking (‘What signs or hints of God’s preferred and promised ways, of God’s glory, might we now see or suspect and celebrate and act towards?).
Suffering is real. The vision of God is real. Neither simply trumps the other. God-in-Christ’s journey through the cross entwines them.
The pictures are taken as near as I can get to it of a tree which in the recent winds fell from within the Rectory grounds here into a neighbouring field.
Friday 4 March 2022
Ezekiel begins with a vision of God surrounded by fire and brightness, cloud and winged creatures (with the detail that their faces were those of eagle, lion, ox, and human face). It isn’t actually a passage set in our three year cycle of Sunday readings.
The vision isn’t created somewhere like the Temple in Jerusalem. Exactly the opposite: the Babylonians have destroyed much of the city, levelled the Temple, and engage in pagan worship on the site; Ezekiel is with those exiled (literally by a river in Babylon remembering Zion).
Six centuries later, early in the Revelation of John, there is a vision of God surrounded by fire and rainbow, thunder and winged creatures (with the same four faces, John clearly knowing how he stood in the tradition of Ezekiel). We read it two Sundays ago.
Again, the vision isn’t created at the holy centre. The Babylonia empire is long gone; it is the Roman empire now which has been complicit in the execution of Jesus and which has, within John’s recent memory, again destroyed the Temple which has been rebuilt after the Babylonian exile. John’s exile is on an island, much as Napoleon would be exiled to Elba and Mandela imprisoned on Robben Island.
So major empires come and go, and they take the opportunity to overrun their neighbours viciously and destructively when they have a mind to do so. And sometimes (it isn’t guaranteed, and it isn’t a neat pious pay off) it is the vision of God which the prophet finds pulls into focus as he or she sits in the middle of the consequences of the disaster.
And then last Sunday, the Church of England has taken to invite us to relate to the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent. At one level this seems a puzzling, or at least non-obvious, choice. But, once again I notice the glory isn’t the real focus of the story. We are (Luke’s version this year) reminded that it is a week on from Jesus’ saying he must suffer and his followers must take up their cross every day, and the dialogue Jesus has with Moses and Elijah is about his coming ‘exodus’ or death.
Perhaps the glory and the painful realities are always inextricably linked. ‘It all seemed so nice, but my faith was destroyed when evil came to wreck things’ is as useful as ‘it is all horrid, but there will be pie in the sky when we die’. Our Lent and our world news seriously inviting us to stay close to the apparent impossibility of reconciling the two.
Meanwhile, the picture comes not from one or two but three weeks ago. Jeremiah, another prophet of the impending and breaking Babylonian invasion, in common with the Psalmist, has curses for those who trust mere mortals and our own strength, destined to be like a shrivelled shrubs in the desert, and blessing for those who trust in the vision of God, destined to be fruitful from roots stretched out beneath the rare streams which flow there. At St James’, our Family Service found water flowing though the desert and placed prayers for green possibilities on its banks.