Sunday, December 25, 2005

A year Old, But Whatthehell...

Saint Mary’s Anglican Church
North Melbourne

Christmas Eve 2004

Robert Whalley

Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Have you heard that much this year? I think I heard it first a few weeks ago, but it was October when I first saw some red and green displays showing themselves at Big W: and then there was a small mountain of red and green coca-cola six packs and I knew it was on the way. Merry Christmas. It is usual, expected this time of year, like part of the family; the greeting, the day, the feast, happens every year, and we forget how very odd it all is, how strange. The surprising child so far away, the shepherds in the field, terrified to see that what they thought was far off, was coming closer, magnified in their eyes and ears. “For to us today is born is born a savior…” Even without the foreigners coming along with gifts in a few days, it is a very foreign story.

These days we generally don’t seek a savior, though most days we do the best we can with what’s out there, and that is important. We do what we can; cobbling together an identity from need and custom, mixing memory and desire to meet the marketplace, minimizing the pains that come. We take up the daily tasks, watch the news, get along. And usually avoid the fleeting feeling that we’ve missed the train for some important event along the way, not seen the sign or taken the turn, and the billboards along side seem diverting enough while we speed on our way.

But then, sometimes, someone or something comes along from the deeper realm of birth and death, and we remember that our views and vocabulary are made up, choices that we’ve agreed to most days; to be certain ways, to see certain things. And we remember that we see only what we look for, and maybe we haven’t looked far enough or close enough lately.

So, how can we learn to see farther, how can we come to see closer? I think this child, this baby Jesus, is a kind of lens enabling us to see farther and closer. The chance of this child makes us focus, clears our sight for a moment, to look out on a world that may be much bigger then we know, may be more full of intent and information than we’ve ever supposed. The birth of this child can sometime make us wonder if the universe is both much larger and more intimate than we’ve expected. It is a surprise.

Yet there have always been hints and guesses that this might be so. From both the new science and the old poetry, wisdom speaks across tradition and time, that love might have a human face, that justice may prevail and warring factions finally lay down their weapons and find peace, that the meek will be blessed, the lost will be found. And hearing all these ancient echoes across time, we do occasionally glance around, in these busy times, to see if a new revelation might be born.

Mary takes that chance – if we listen to the story: a teen-aged woman in first-century Palestine, with her assured future along the common way, hears an angel, messenger of heaven, very foreign, proclaim that newborn truth could come from somewhere else, and become flesh of her flesh, beyond belief, virgin-born life. And she says Yes to that inconceivable possibility: and gives her future, her ascent, her life towards that new life,

Can we take that chance? When the world is so crowded with noise and news and necessity, can we take the chance that a true new love can come to us here and now, that each of us, every one of us might serve as messengers, birth-givers, seed bearers, mothering some unknown merciful truth to be born in the middle of here and now? What if that light did dawn for us tonight? What if?

Listen: we are here to sing the songs, pray the prayers, remember the story, take the broken bread and wine of the savior into our own bodies and blood, and consider this: that the creator of the whole shebang has come here into the very middle of everything, as newborn, self-giving love, as interconnected relationship which is wanting to be known, lived into, lived out. The kingdom of heaven has come among us, close as seed and breath, light, sight, soul. What can we say in response, how do we live with this?

Can we will to stay with this story? It is not easy, will mean both death and birth for us. Paradoxically, it is both painful yet full of promise: to live with the contradiction of infinity and fragility, history and hope, Can we be present to the timeless one coming into the world just in time to meet our long list of demands with a simple story of love and acceptance, and an assurance that no one and nothing will be lost at the end. Is that possibility enough for us to begin to take up that task and that discipline now?

For tonight it is Christmas Eve, when we remember his birth. And some kind of window is open; the light comes through, a connection is being made. In the midst of a tradition where much is superfluous, archaic, irrelevant, dying; there is something alive, newborn, waiting to be lived, not only in Bethlehem but here and now, in you and me. Take the chance, it says, that the Creator of all has come closer, deeper into all creation, waiting to be known, to be present, as newborn love. Can we take this up? It will take time, discipline, thought and action. But if it happened once, can it happen here? Can that creative love take form and direction, heart and breath, flesh and blood again? Can we enter into mystery and faith in this noisy age and let this hope be born again so that a new and enduring love may live in our own lives, in our own world?

There is no program for this seeing; it is only given. But in this moment, and in the moments that follow in this holy season; may we keep our eyes open, our hearts clear, our wills ready, so that we may take up our part in bringing the reality of that child we remember today to the midst of the world he waits to serve.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Getting ready...

It is almost Christmas and I am tired, stretched out, even a little down. Partly that's been the busy season of Advent, making an end and a beginning at the same time. Partly some ongoing knee and back pain that have lowered my energy level.

So I look forward to the celebrations tomorrow night: first a Mexican dinner with the ministry team at St. Peter's Eastern Hill, then Carols and the Midnight Mass with all the smells and bells that can be mustered, and that's quite a lot at St. Peter's.

We did an Advent series for four Thursdays during the season and that was good preparation, but the best of Christmas often comes as a suprise, as Eliot writes in Choruses from the Rock, "The altar must be built in one place for the fire to descend in another" and I am ready for that fire to come and surpise me tomorrow night.

Have a blessed holiday!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


C. S. Lewis and the Philosophy of Narnia

"In the wake of Disney’s epic movie adaptation,
discover the spiritual, mythic and ethical
implications of “The Chronicles of Narnia”
as RMIT academic John Lenarcic engages
in conversation with university chaplain
Robert Whalley. "

Wednesday January 18th 2006 at 7pm.
Free admission
The Stork Hotel,
504 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.
Phone: 9663 6237

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Fourth Sunday in Advent - St. Stephen's and St. Mary's, Mount Waverly

Let’s start by setting a scene where one character meets another, meets a stranger who seems to have some deep authority and an important message. They meet in a large room and, as the curtains are drawn and the lights come up, this messenger pours forth a whole new understanding of what the world is and how we are to live in it. The messenger gives his good news:

“It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet! That is the natural order of things today! That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?

“We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale!

“It has been since man crawled out of the slime, and our children, Mr. Beale, will live to see that perfect world in which there is no war and famine, oppression and brutality— one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you to preach this evangel, Mr. Beale”.

And Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch in the 1976 Oscar winning film, “Network”, can only look and say, “I have seen God”, and Arthur Jenson, the television network chairman played by Ned Beatty, smiles and says, “You just may be right, Mr. Beale.”

But he just may be wrong too. For that may be one, very powerful way of envisioning the world, of making sense of what to do and how to be, what matters and what lasts: but there are other ways as well, and that’s why we’re here, to enlarge our hearts and minds, and to deepen our understanding of other, even truer, ways to be in the world; maybe just as one old prayer puts it , to “keep our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, lest we grow hard”
So, here’s a second - and again somewhat edited – scene with a few similarities to the first.
Here a young girl is met by a messenger who says this:

“You have found favor with God and you will bear a son who will be the child of the Most High, who will reign… forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’… Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.”

So my question is this: how do you see this, make sense of it, how do you connect this announcement of Good News with your own life? I like movies a lot, and I think one of the best films on the life of Jesus is a low budget 1960s movie called “The Gospel According to Saint Matthew”, directed by an Italian named Paolo Passolini and made on the island of Sicily. The way he films this scene is especially wonderful. Mary is a beautiful young girl, and when she sees the angel, a gorgeous creature, her eyes light up in amazement, love, rapture.

You can see absolute joy in her eyes to receive this message, to let it come into her life. And then we follow her through the film as she follows Jesus. We see her when they nail her son to the cross and take his body to the tomb, we see her two days later when she goes with the other women to anoint his body and finds instead an angel at the door to the tomb announcing that he now lives; and it is the same angel! You can see that old joy in her eyes, it is an old face now, wrinkled by the years, but the same eyes, and the joy when she sees the same angel.

So what angels do we see? What messengers do we make room for in our sometimes so crowded lives? Most of us don’t live in the movies or in scripture for that matter, though we may find them important for our envisioning: so we don’t often get androgynous Italian youths telling us that we are blessed, will bear fruit for the healing of nations.
Nor do we hear, as Mary will hear from Simeon, that a sword will pierce our heart as well. But we do get a lot of messages about who we are and what matters, what we can take for granted and what we can give to one another,
we hear these messages on the television and the movies and the radio as well. And sometimes they are very loud. They color our understanding of who we are and what we’re about. And they make it difficult, sometimes, to listen carefully when some surprisingly good news comes to us, as it did to Mary, and is almost too good for us to believe. But it is important be awake to come to take the chance.

For I believe that in the very centre of reality, in the deep heart of holiness, there is only one angel, only one message. It may come at different times, with a different emphasis, be heard in a different voice, using different words. But it is the same, and it is this: that God has come to dwell in the midst of humanity. As the angel’s message to Mary announces God’s intention to meet with her in unspeakable intimacy, to conceive a place where God’s love might dwell in the very centre of humanity; so God’s message comes, in all times and in all places, to tell us the same truth: that God is desirous of living with us.

God has come to build a home in our hearts, to make our human being a sacred place where steadfast holy friendship may be found, announced, created, made flesh, to make a meeting place where our - and every - life may be redeemed from unmeaning and insignificance.

For we, like Mary, are called to be a place, to live a life, which consents and opens to God breathing deep into all our individual being, our limits and loves, our history and hope, our talents and tragedies. For Mary it was to take a unique part in the birth of God with us, in giving human life to the one we call Lord and God, this Jesus whose birth we celebrate in this coming season of Christmas. That is one unique task, but it is a model for our call as well. For the messenger asks us, like her, to be willing participants, birth-givers in our own way and with our own God-given disabilities and abilities, taking our part in co-creating an unspeakably intimate and unbelievably great conspiracy of Holy love.

That is the heart of the message announced by the angel to Mary, and to us today as well. God is coming near, is here, here in the middle of your life. God is willing to meet you, is with you, from before your birth to after your death, and in all the intervals from here to there. God wants to keep company with all of us, all of the time. This is the greatest truth, the Good News that comes with Jesus and which, perhaps, has been forever, but angels, I think, always begin their message with the word “Now!”

Unfortunately we usually don’t. We say, “Someday”, or “I remember” or “What if” or “If only”. We so often hide from the promise and presence of God’s word meeting human flesh in glory. We hide in the shade of the tamer paler stories and slogans that are announced on every other street corner and on every channel: so many other announcements, messengers of wisdom, calling for allegiance and conformity: “Experts agree.” “You get what you pay for.” “Early to bed early to rise.” “Better not to try than to fail.” “Only take sensible risks.” “Play the percentages.” “The world is a business.” “Don’t get hurt again.”

And the Angel comes to us and says, “Now” in every moment and waits for our response in every instant. It is a response that requires amazing audacity and an even greater humility: and it is asked of each of us right now as it was asked of Mary so many years ago. Listen, Meister Eckhart said this in a sermon some 700 years ago.

“It is more worthy of God that He be born spiritually of every pure and virgin soul, than that He be born of Mary. Hereby we should understand that humanity is, so to speak, the Son of God born from all eternity. [For] When we humble ourself, God cannot restrain His mercy; He must come down and pour His grace into the humble, and He gives Himself most of all, and all at once, to the least of all. It is essential to God to give, for His essence is His goodness and His goodness is His love… God brings forth His Son in thee.”

And the voice of the angel is heard, and the word of the angel is now. And the gift of the angel, which we see in the promise of Mary, and know most fully in the life of Jesus her son, is that we, each and everyone of us, are blessed by God and welcomed into the joyous company those who offer life and live in Christ.

May it be to each of us according to his word.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Thomas Merton writes...

“Am I sure that the meaning of my life is the meaning God intends for it? Does God impose a meaning on my life from the outside, through event, custom, routine, law, system, impact with others in society? Or am I called to create from within, with him, with his grace, a meaning which reflects his truth and makes me his “word” spoken freely in my personal situation? My true identity lies hidden in God’s call to my freedom and my response to him. This means I must use my freedom in order to love, with full responsibility and authenticity, not merely receiving a form imposed on me by external forces, or forming my own life according to an approved social pattern, but directing my love to the personal reality of my brother, and embracing God’s will in its naked, often impenetrable mystery.”

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Stained Glass

Stained Glass
Originally uploaded by Chaplinesque.

One of a set of panels at La Trobe Univeristy. I pass them several times a week, and they always refresh me.

Prayers at the Carol Service, RMIT University

Thomas Merton writes that we are a variety of voices and one silence. So let us gather in that shared silence to remember our common cares and concerns in the ways which we follow and the worlds in which we live, wishing for ourselves, for one another, and for the whole world we live in nothing less than Shanti, Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

And we shall say together, Shanti, Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

Let us take time to give thanks for the various traditions and communities, individuals and institutions, rites and rituals, human gatherings over time and place that open the sacred to us in daily life. To the constellations and communities that cast our eyes and our wills godward; encouraging and enabling us to find peace, live in hope and practice the faith and passion that comes in the centre of human beings fully alive.

And we shall say together, Shanti, Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

Let us take time in one silence to remember the world and its’ constituent nations and kingdoms, the powers and principalities of the earth: All the hegemonies of economics and desire, people, animals, plants, minerals, with all our shared histories of blood and hope, of sacrifice and sacrilege, victor and victim, corruption and redemption. That all our increasing knowledge may lead to a deeper and finer compassion and wisdom enabling us to take up the holy relationship of steward and lover, that we may care for all of ourselves, the family of all sentient beings, as well as all patient plants and minerals, as partners and co-creators within this fragile ecosphere.

And we shall say together, Shanti, Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

Let us take time in one silence, to give thanks and reaffirm our care for our own communities, the places where we live and move and have our being, where we work and where we live, where we laugh, cry, bed down and rise up daily. That we may be honest and open with each other, that justice and equity, fairness and honest affection may take precedent over economics and short term gains, that we may live and work together on the common path and not merely the bottom line.

And we shall say together, Shanti, Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

Let us remain in silence and recall those that have suffered in the past year, both in silence and in tumult, for all victims: for those who touched by wars and acts of violence, by fear, famine and natural disaster. For the people of Iraq, Israel and Palestine, the horn of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the underclass of the Americas and all other rich nations, that violence and terror, corruption and injustice might cease, and peaceful understanding grow; that we might see how much we have in common, how much we have to lose, and how much to gain in sharing peace and plenty.

And we shall say together, Shanti, Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

In one silence we remember that newborn and the departed, magical children and wise and wizened elders, those who have been close to us in our work or play, for all linked to us by blood or daily occupation, who are no longer near. In this transition time, we recall all who go on journeys, who go to unseen places and unknown ends; that there may be a connection that abides and, in some unforeseeable way, a union that returns. That we may one day be one again

And we shall say together, Shanti, Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

And in the midst of silence, we regard our neighbour, whether friend or stranger, nodding acquaintance, casual opponent or mystery of being, and we wish them well in this season of birth and beginning, of mystery and ending, as a gathered community of one silence and the gift of a variety of voices.

Let us say to one another, Shanti, Shalom, Salaam, Peace.