Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Reflections on the Tsunami - 2004

They rise and fall on the ocean waves: the children in the sea, the ones who ran to the great harvest of fish on the open coast, along the receding waters edge, before the flood. That is the image that stays with me this morning, after the news, radio and television, text and pictures, after coffee, email, breakfast and mass, after the news that one American friend who was there is found and, with his family, survived. After the numbness and the tears and the prayers: this abides.

It is an event of biblical proportions; earthquake and flood: people torn from one another, the coming plagues, the sea giving up its dead; all images found in those black-bound books that have accompanied Christendom around the world and - even if we are vehemently post-Christian - resound in our common memories, our hearts and minds.

How can there be a just or kind God in this world, either in its creation or in its workaday operations? Maybe the clock has run down, maybe the demons have come forth, maybe we are on that “darkling plain… where ignorant armies clash by night.” But this obscenity seems to put the myth of any caring God to flight.

I have seen the pictures of the dead, waving in the ocean, waiting to come to land. I wait for the news of people in this parish who were in Thailand, my pharmacist who was looking forward to a vacation on the beach there. I hear the stories of the dead prince, the grandchild of the television commentator, the football player on honeymoon. And this is only the surface: for thousands of dead wait in rubble, under mud, amidst the limbs of broken trees. The world of hope has turned upside down: so many lives rising and falling.

Where can faith come from today, in this world that watches, bound together once more by tragedy as the tube witnesses in our living rooms? Where can hope be found? Where can I stand while the world drowns in such awareness? What can I say? How can I pray?

I am some sort of Christian, ‘though most days I despair of the church, wonder about the traditions, doubt the phrasing of the dogmas and doctrines, and am disgusted by the more moralistic of my people. There is a story that Frank Lloyd Wright was taken to see the Civic Center of San Francisco years ago. He turned with disgust from the large classically French-inspired domed building on a large rectangular plaza: “Only a city as beautiful as this,” he said, “could survive what you are doing to it.” In my experience he could have been speaking of the church. But something survives.

Jesus doesn’t survive, not even in the biblical account. Killed by mediocrity, geo-political, hegemonies like those that surround us now. Factions came together to agree that his expedient death would be in order. And it was easily accomplished. There may be more to the stories, and I believe there is, but there’s a dead man in the center of it.

He may live beyond death, but we can all agree that he died. And if he did live in some new largesse of existence we can’t yet envision, then that’s not much help now. In a world where dead children surf towards broken land, where mass graves are being prepared, where this tectonic uprising that certainly intended no death or destruction brings mourning and grief beyond belief for people beyond number.

St. Paul, who wrote many stupid things, and was probably as psychologically damaged as most of the people I see every day, said, “mourn with those who mourn,” and I think that is a safe bet today. It would be a terrible thing to meet anyone with some pre-packaged re-assured hope at this time, but we can remember ourselves, remember our connection with the dead and dying, and those whose lives are torn and broken. We need instead to witness this act with them: we need to stand together.

It would be wonderful if all peoples and nations would put away the implements of war for some few days right now, could meet at the edge of the waters and watch the children rise and fall, as they come home to land; if religious leaders of all and any sect and tribe could stand together with tears and mourning for mothers and fathers, families over all the earth who are one in mourning. It probably wouldn’t matter much in a week or so, the inevitable pull of powers and principalities would resumes, nation make war against nation, and children die in dust and fire as well as water and the limb of broken trees. But, if just for a day, we could mourn together and remember.

Earlier this year I attended a memorial services for a visiting American student who had a virus-caused infarction that killed him instantly while he was working out at the University gym near where I live. As an American who served as a chaplain at several US campuses, I was invited to the service. Afterwards I talked to some students and staff who knew him. And the only thing I could think of was a beer commercial where someone took a swig of fresh brew and smiling, said, “This one’s for you.”

I told several people, young and beautiful students who have lost a friend they had just come to know, that they should say this to him when they saw a sunrise, drank a beer, made love, cried, lived life. That was my theological perspective and my ministry that morning; with tears and prayers, it was the best I could give them. That and some dumb conviction (that stays with me against all the noisy voices that tell me it isn’t so) that the dead do rise, and nothing and no one will be lost at the last.

I told them that when I was eight years old someone told me about the primary sexual act, how babies are born. I responded that I didn’t believe it, my parents would never do that, and I would never do that! I did change my mind, came to believe, but time had to take place and my body had to turn and change before I knew that this wild story might be true.

So it may be with the resurrection of the dead. Old St. Paul may be right on this one as well. We might need to get to a further maturity, some deeper ripening on the road ahead rising up within us before we can ken this truth; but it may be there, whether we know it or not. Most days I do believe that love will prevail, ‘though I am not sure how, and I try to base my life on this hunch, faith, whatever. This may not be true for you and I am not out to convert anyone to anything. I just want to stand alongside, by the edge of the sea, with you, and hope that all the children find their way home.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

2006 and the RMIT Chaplaincy

Dear Friends and Associates of the RMIT Chaplaincy,

As we come to the end of the year and the beginning of a well-earned time for reflection, recreation and renewal, I wanted to write a bit about our chaplaincy in 2006.

To put it simply and to quote Frank Sinatra, “It was a very good year”. So we look back fondly as we look forward to the year ahead. This year we began a variety of educational, pastoral and prophetic offerings with a number of programs and activities that will continue in somewhat different forms for the autumn semester. Opening Scripture will merge into Opening Conversation, Morning Prayer will move into the celebration of the weekly Eucharist. Our Friday offering, RMIT Prays, will transmute into a weekly “Peacemakers” meeting and hopefully connect with a local group of Amnesty International. Opening Silence, co-ordinated with Philomena Holman and Lyndon Medina, expands from two weekly meetings with offerings at the Business School and at the Bundoora campus. In addition, there are plans for a quiet day or two during the year, some short courses on the Enneagram, Thomas Merton on the Christian-Buddhist connection, and a series of meeting on Group Spiritual Formation.

So it has been a busy year and it is important to note the help and support received from our chaplains: Robert Miller, Tony Salisbury and Peter Collins; as well as Agus Effundy, Okie Tranupradja and Libby Austin during this year. Our numbers will be growing next year as we welcome Chi Kwang Sunim and Father James Grant to the Bundoora campus. Chi Kwang was born in Western Australia, trained as a sculptor, and worked as an art teacher before spending 19 years living as a Zen Buddhist nun in Korea. She returned to set up the retreat centre "The Seon Centre" in King Lake, where she is currently Abbess. At this point we are hoping that she will be involved in “Opening Silence” on the Bundoora campus. James Grant will be working with staff and students at Bundoora as well as supervising a deacon, a member of the Sundanese community who will be a presence on the campus. In the coming year we will also be welcoming Riad Galil, the Imam of the West Heidelberg mosque and a member of the Victorian Board of Imans. With a long history in multi-faith concerns, Riad will be a coordinator of the Jewish- Christian-Muslim conference in 2007 and has been nominated by the Islamic Council of Victoria to sit on the Council for Chaplains in Tertiary Institutions. His ministry will be a real boon to the whole RMIT community.

And if I thanked everyone who supported the chaplaincy by friendship, attendance, meeting over a cuppa or a coke sharing questions and answers, then this letter would be far too long. But please know that you have made a difference in who we are and what we do on the ground floor of Building 11, in the Spiritual Centre, and all around RMIT.

We wish you well during this holiday season, and a very good new year.

Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 04, 2006

Sermon, Advent Sunday. St. Peter's Eastern HIll

Let’s begin today with some questions: What was most important to you 24 hours ago, or two months ago, or on July 11th 2004? What will be next Wednesday at 2:00pm or next February or ten years from now? What or who will you love, hate, fear? What will hold your interest or bore you, what changes will happen in the world around you or in the intimate connections that are crucial to you right now? What changes, what remains the same? And where is there an insight or a vision that will speak to this swiftly passing world?

Those are Advent concerns and questions and relate to the reading from the Gospel that we just heard, which is a form of biblical writing called Apocalyptic Literature; visionary, poetic, image-laden accounts of the end-time (and we will hear more during this season). This sort of language, prophecy and prediction comes when the people of God go through tough times. When the temple is destroyed, when kidnappings occur, when terror reigns and the future seems so different from the past that it is almost beyond belief, when hope gets thin and you need a vision that makes room for beginning again, opening the door a little for some new hope when all the old options seem to be closing fast. The Advent lessons bring visions of enforced endings and perhaps tentative beginnings.

So, let me tell you about two visions I saw in the middle of the 1980s. Two television shows about the effects of a nuclear holocaust: one called The Endless Winter and the other called The Day After. Terrible visions: I remember the pictures of the light and the wind and the fire that would follow the dropping of the big bombs. And even if some of us were to survive that end-time, it would be to reap a miserable harvest in a silent world, because bees would not be there to pollinate the flowers and birds and animals would not know to turn away or close their eyes and would be blinded by that false light. So the spring following the holocaust would have fewer colors and little song after that infernal gray blossom fell from the sky.

I was taking classes in Berkeley, California then, where there’s a great bell-tower in the centre of the campus, and whenever I would hear the striking of the bells on the hour I would try to stop what I was doing and look at the possibility that it all might end right then. To look around while the bells were ringing, and people, animals, insects, trees and plants were moving together in the cool air and the soft light and think: "It could all be over, finished, end." And when the bells stopped ringing and the sounds of everyday came back I would look around and think; "There is a chance, we are not dead yet." And there is a chance that if we are not dead, then perhaps we are newborn, like children, full of new possibilities, full of graceful innocence and promise, full of beginning.

It is a strange place to base a code of conduct or an economy, in sight of the Last Things. But it is also a great place. For to live out the possibilities and the message of love, forgiveness and renewal, the way of beginning rightly in the face of all the endings, is to assent and assist in the birth of God’s grace, God’s very face in our daily and real world. It is to allow mystery and forgiveness and renewal of God's purpose, life and love, to begin once again. And it is to begin right where you are. No matter where you were yesterday, two years ago, wherever you may be three years from now, on the anniversary of your birthday or on the day you die. You are still right in the middle of your life. As the American baseball player Yogi Berra once said, Wherever you go, there you are! And there is the only place where we can learn to love, to let our love grow and ripen, and make our life and ministry matter.

It isn’t easy to live in a world lit up by birth and death. Most days we make our way somewhere down the middle between history and hope, doing what we can; cobbling together an identity from need and custom, meeting the marketplace and minimizing the pain; and though there can be a fleeting feeling that we’ve missed the sign for some important turn, we generally go our own way.

But an apocalypse or an Advent, the time and place where beginning and ending flash into consciousness, can be a kind of wakeup call, and a lens enabling us to see both farther into what might be and closer into what is. It clears our sight for a moment to reveal the present time as a world bigger then we know, more full of intent and information than we’ve supposed, more intimate than we could have hoped for.

And how do we prepare so that this new seed may come to grow? How do we receive this truth and live it out in the complex textures of our lives? It requires an ongoing openness, discipline and practiced ministry in three places: where we work, where we play, and where we fear.

These are the three axes on which we meet and bear and balance our highest hopes, our inner lives and our outward ministry: all in a universe saturated by the grace of a self-giving and all loving God. “Where we work” because that is often the best, although not easiest, place for practicing ministry; “Where we play” because that is so often where we participate in the joy of God’s creation; and “where we fear” because that is when we need to know that we are walking with the Lord in the middle of our life.

So “Wherever you go, there you are!”. It is one hope: of a world woven together by love: where we come to reach for Christ, and let Christ reach out to meet the world in our ministry. To get a grip on Christ so that we may learn to hand him to the world and hand the world back to him. As members of that body, proceeding into the world God loves, day after day, year after year, time after time, in our work, in our play, in our fear. In being present as we can with faithful hearts to family, friends and strangers; in tasks, hobbies, jobs and joys, in the times of frustrations and puzzlement and promise, in agreements that must be honored, in situations that must be met. All these are places where we act out, serve out, flesh out, and live out the reconciling life of Jesus - in serving love of every kind - in the ministry of acceptance, love, and forgiveness in the middle of our lives.

And this is our hope. That in all beginnings, middles and endings, the love of God in Christ recalls and remembers our lives so that our daily liturgies are transformed into that one great Eucharistic celebration. That we shall come to move like Christ in all these places with the grace of the God who comes to meet us this Advent. Right here and right now, in the sight of the end-times, we find our end, our goal. In sight of the last things, we have faith that this insight, this action, this liturgy, will last.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

My Journal - from a retreat earlier this month

Right now, I feel tired, not physically but mentally and/or spiritually; I need some time that’s open to letting my mental shoulders drop. The only reading material I brought is the Bible, the plan is to start on Luke-Acts and see where it takes me. I might also nap a bit. It’s good to be here, in a time and a place to be refreshed. The Bishop who’s leading this talked about learning to meditate via TM in the 60s. For me it came in 1969 when I met Dom Aelred Graham while he was staying at the house of a woman I knew in the Napa Valley. I had just started reading Merton, and Graham had been in contact with him, helped him on the way to India, and I wanted to know about that. I was also a part of a retreat he did for youth groups and was surprised by meditating: that there seemed to be something in meditation that was both clear and beyond discussion, and it hit me early that by sitting in silence a refreshment that took place, some clarity and Grace was found. It was hard then, and still is sometimes, to simply sit without comment, drama, obfuscation. But, even that first time there was, and remains, a sense, a knowing, that there is firm reality there, both a place to rest and a place to stand.

I think I am probably more contemplative than I’ve every been before. Part of that comes from the gife of aging, surrounded by loving friends and work that fits me well. Both those gifts deliver me from the ongoing dialogue of whether I am worthy, whether I am real enough, that kept me so occupied in my earlier life. And this more recent freedom lets me meet the world more often with some silence within me, so that I can see the world as it is more clearly, rather than how I fear or hope it might be. So there’s more room for seeing and listening. I tell people to try to give thanks twenty times a day: take a picture of something that lifts your heart and send the picture an part of an email to God. It is a little cute, but it works for me and it points my life closer to what I think I am supposed to do.

The contemplative spirit, being willing to listen more to what God might offer, makes me a better pastor as well. I seem to find more openness inside and out, relax more with others, am open to see where it might go – whatever it might be – if it has the room. I still want to control things, but there’s more room to let life go it’s own way. I trust God life, myself, more.

As I write this there is a buzzing sound coming out of the non-working heater mounted on the wall to my left. Knowing that most Australian insects are large and highly lethal, this gives me pause. Now the noise has stopped, which either means the THING has died, fallen asleep or is moving stealthily towards my feet. If these are my last words, know that I was doing well and was happy in my doing and my being, well employed and learning more about the grace of Love.

A Poem in Process

How I long for some
more benevolent form of synethesia:
I want to listen to the trees sing,

I long to see all the colour of names spoken.
I know that someone near is sitting in the place
where flowers shout in spring and leaves make
sad music as they fall from trees.
That’s the neighbourhood that calls me home.

One willow tree said something earlier today,
not spoken so much as whispered
in the way she turned in a hint of wind:
something delicate, light and quite articulate,
like a shy person speaking with sudden conviction.
It came from the crotch where a branch turned out,
a scar that had reified into something surprisingly beautiful.
And was nuanced from the way light touched her leaves,
dancing in this late spring afternoon.
And I listened.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I even steal from my own blog, this Sunday's sermon.

Last week I got a letter, email, from a good friend who's going through a tough time: the job’s not going well, working with people he doesn’t trust, too far away from home and good friends and family, feeling very lost and lonely. Plus he recently hit the big 50 and finds he’s nowhere near to being who and what he wanted, or where he hoped he’d be at this point on the journey (and in this he’s not unlike James and John, those two upwardly mobile, hoping for glory, disciples who come to Jesus with their request in the Gospel reading for today). So my good friend sent a letter with a lot of sadness, anger, disappointment, mourning: he’s not a happy camper. It’s a very human and rather common place to be and most of us have visited there at least once or twice. This is what I wrote to him:

What if you stop looking at what you didn't turn out to be and base your life in the middle of where you are? I read these articles, hear stories on the news, about people in Africa who have had their arms cut off during the uprisings in the Sudan. And I think: there’s only one thing I could do with that, I'd either have to die right there, or I’d have to stop and say, “Now I have to start living as someone who has no arms, will never have arms, and live from that point - giving up all the dreams of a person I was before. That man is dead and I am alive and this is where and how I am.”

Now the Asian martial art of Aikido talks about "taking the hit as a gift" and that is a tough discipline: giving up the old dreams, the hopes, the stuff we felt was ours as a right or an outcome to expect, and taking the hit of what we have in front of us, within us, whatever it is, and learning to use that as the place where we live, where we offer to the world and to God just what we can. Sometimes that means balancing with being off balance, learning to take life as a gift with no arms, if you have to, and somehow believing there is a gift to give that comes from being who and where you are no matter who and what that is.

But saints can do that, and everybody can be a saint, even if just for a short time now and then: in those transient moments when the gift and grace of the present moment show up in the graceful light of eternity when we see clearly that everything is a gift, even losing, even leaving it all behind: when it is all somehow seen as lit from within. But it doesn’t always show up when you want, in the time you choose, in the context you would want. And that’s not easy to swallow. Here’s a story I love from Zen Buddhism:

A man is walking in a field when he sees a lion coming after him. He runs and the lion runs. He comes to a cliff at the end of the field and the lion is closing in. He jumps, he falls, he catches himself by grabbing onto a small branch which is protruding fro the side of the cliff. He takes a breath and looks down at the bottom of the cliff and there are two tigers looking at him hungrily. He looks up and the lion is climbing down, He looks down and the tigers have set up a picnic blanket and are saying grace (I’ve adapted the story a bit at this point).

Suddenly a little furry animal comes out of a nearby hole and begins to chew on the small branch the man is holding onto, and it starts to come apart. As the branch begins to break, the man sees one small bright red berry attached to the end of that same branch and he reaches out to take the berry and puts it quickly in his mouth. He bites into it. He says, 'Ah, Delicious!' "

Samuel Johnson somewhere said that the prospect of an imminent death concentrates the mind wonderfully, But I think it also can serve to open the heart. So this odd little story might tell a very important truth which is that we're always between the lion and tigers, failure and death are never NOT an option, as much as we’d prefer to avoid that truth. But giving up on what we thought we wanted, and accepting the difficult grace that comes where we are, can open us up to some unsought but very sweet small berries in the very middle of the way, and can lead us to a new understanding of how our lives might be lived out, offered out, and where our ministries might take us, for they can only start here in that understanding and in that place.

The Holy Eucharist we celebrate here is many things, has many facets, and maybe it is also a very sweet berry: a bright moment on a shadowed journey that gives us a taste of how to take the old road or go down the old cliff in a new way. We look up to the east end of the church and see this ongoing dance of give and take, of offering and oblation, of service and sacrifice, because the liturgy at the east end of the church pictures the caring that lives in the middle of the universe. It is both a kind of coming attractions as well as a statement about the foundation of daily life, weaving our lives anew through the recurring themes of sin and grace, mercy and thanksgiving, the perils of the journey and the joy of finally coming home.

But it is critically important to remember that this great feast comes to us right in the centre of where we are, between all the lions and tigers, and that is what bears watching. For while what we do here is glorious (and absolutely necessary) it’s not where we live, where we take up our ministry, our servant-hood, our daily practice, discipline, discipleship.

We are here, as “westenders”, catching that dawning eastern light in order to light up the world where we live, and to light up our way as witnesses and workers in that very same world. We are here to enlighten and inspire our vocations as very fragile and deeply valuable servants who work out our salvation – and everyone else’s - in each of our humble daily tasks just as we can.

So what happens at the east end is only the beginning: the centre of it comes in the middle of our lives, no matter where or how they are. For that is when we have the difficult, dangerous, glorious opportunity of looking for and living with God, as friends, co-creators, co-ministers of the work of creation, redemption, in the daily in-your-face holiness of life. In the middle of it all, we are Jesus Christ’s word in the world: servants of the most high God in this mundane and wondrous existence and that’s where our call calls us.

We say it every Sunday in this place: “We offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice through Jesus Christ our Lord. Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory.” And then we go to try it out, flesh it out, work it out, give it over, all over God’s good world.

One last story: a woman dies after a long and careful life and the question of the estate comes up. One person says, “Did she leave much?” And the response is, “Well, actually she left it all!”

In the end there is no question of winning: we leave it all, just like Jesus. And as the old song says, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” and there’s a lot of freedom here. For in giving our life to Christ and taking on the yoke and ministry of Christ’s servanthood to the world we find the freedom of having nothing left to lose. For all is given up and will be found again in Gods glory, God’s service, God’s love, Gods’ good time, which we come to know in the face of this Christ, who calls us here today to be ministers and servants in this new creation.

May we do our jobs well, may we honour our vocations today and everyday, in the name of Christ.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Taize and Meditative Singing

If you hear the singing, you will remember!

Come to the Spiritual Centre at RMIT University on Tuesday 31 October at 12:30pm to participate in an experience of meditative singing in the tradition of Taize and to meet Frere Ghislain, one of the monks of Taize. An ecumenical monastic community, founded in 1940 by Brother Roger, Taize is the home of an international, ecumenical community made up of over a hundred brothers, Catholics and from various Protestant backgrounds, from more than twenty-five nations. The brothers of Taize are committed for their whole life to material and spiritual sharing, to celibacy, and to a great simplicity of life.

“Singing is one of the most essential elements of worship. Short songs, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character.
Using just a few words they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God."
I wrote this to someone who's going through a tough time, it is advice I need to keep near me as well.

What if (and here I own the projection fully) you stop looking at what you didn't turn out to be and base your life in the middle of where you are? I hear stories about people in Africa who had arms cut off during the wars, terrors, uprisings, whatever, around Sudan, wherever, and I think: I'd have to stop and look and say, I have to start living as a man who has no arms, will never have arms, and live from that point - giving up the dreams of a man who had one or two arms. That man is dead and I am alive and this is where and how I am. Aikido talks about "taking the hit as a gift" and that is a tough discipline. Losing the dreams, hopes, stuff we felt was our as a right or an outcome, And taking the hit of what we have, whatever it is, learning to balancing with being off balance, learning to take like as a gift with no arms, and somehow believing there is a gift to give that comes from having no arms.

Saints can do that, and I believe everybody can be a saint, even if just for a short time now and then: in those transient moments when we see clearly that everything is a gift, even losing, even leaving it all behind: still it is all somehow seen as lit from within.

When I was being checked in '87 to see if the skin cancer had spread into my lymphatic system I went into a cat-scan machine to look via nuclear medicine and see where the melanoma was draining, and the crew were all recent Asian immigrant with heavily accented English who were so very kind to me, and I was waiting in the middle of the machine while the tests were going on, thinking I might just die soon in the middle of a web of such soft compassion in a place I had never looked for, never expected, never wanted.

This is from a sermon I did awhile back:

"OK, to finish with a Zen tale. A man is walking in a field when he sees a lion coming after him. He runs and the lion runs. He comes to a cliff and decides to try to climb down. He looks at the bottom of the cliff and there are two tigers looking at him hungrily. The cliff is steep and the ground is shaky. He looks up and the lion in climbing down, He looks down and the tigers have set up a picnic blanket and are saying grace. He starts to fall down the cliff and catches hold of a small branch on the side of the cliff. Then as he is catching his breath, a small rat runs over to the branch and bites it in two, as the branch begins to break the man sees a small red berry attached to the end of the branch and reaches out to take the berry and put it quickly in his mouth. He says, 'Ah, Delicious!' "

The congregation was generally underwhelmed by the example, but it is a very important story for me. We're always between the lion and tigers, eaten on every side, and death is not an non-option, as much as prefer to avoid that truth, but there are still such sweet berries in the very middle of the way!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

From the Perth Royal Show

The Royal Parade - kids, adults, on horses, leading cattle of all kinds, circling the field with majesty and pride. It's the Peaceable Kingdom and an overflowing joy, I could spend years watching this!

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Week Away

It's been too long since I've written, and in a hour I leave for the airport for a week in Perth! This is for a chaplaincy conference, so it won't be a pure rest, although restorative. This is the third year I've gone to the TCMA gathering and I look forward to connecting with other chaplains from around Australia. It will be the first time in Western Australia and I want to swim - if I can - in the Indian Ocean, at least get my feet wet.

I've been working maybe too hard, but I'm changing rhythm since the Religious Affairs Committee meeting last month. Taking time for reading and prayer, getting files ordered, even back to sitting in the Cafe and connecting with whoever comes by. I've fallen out of the gym routine - again - but will try to get back on that wagon next week when I return.

A note: I want to write that I enjoy seeing where the people who visit this site come from, it really is world-wide and that amazes me. There are a few weblogs that I check on regularly and I feel like I know something about their lives, and appreciate the chance to look into someone else's daily - weekly - experience. So if you just stopped by, you're welcome.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Five years ago....

Notes From An American Abroad in Melbourne, Australia
A Few Days After September 11, 2001

Yesterday we took the tram out to the American consulate on St. Kilda Road here in Melbourne. Several other people got off the tram at the same time and walked in the same direction. You could see the building from the intersection, a modern low rise building, modest architecture, unremarkable except that people were walking around the small pattern of box hedges that marked the front entrance and which bloomed with bouquets of cut flowers in paper wrappings, with plants and sprays of roses, with candles and cards and letters printed and written on red, white and blue papers and addressed to the American people from the people of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. “Our hearts are with you,” “You are in our prayers,” “We send our love.” I watched a young teenage girl leave her mothers side to put a bouquet of daisies on the ground at the foot of the massed flowers and I went over to speak to her: “Excuse me,” I said, , “but as an American who feels very far from home right now,” and the tears started again, “I just wanted to say thank you very much.” I felt a touch on my arm and turned to see her mothers wet eyes as she smiled at me and said, “That’s OK.

That clock radio clicked on at 5:00AM that first morning and there was heard a segment of the first press conference held by the Mayor of New York. It made no sense at first; then facts filtered in, contexts drew lines, and there was a wavering instant when you hoped that it was some kind of fictional radio drama, “Orson Welles and the War of the Worlds,” but this was all true.

Two jets crashed into the twin towers of the 110 story World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. First one and then a second plane crashed into the towers, flames and fuel spilling into and through and down the building, trajectories and shards of wreckage and bodies falling down into the streets of New York like fireworks, and then the buildings themselves pancake down to the ground and thousands are killed. At the same time another plane flies into the Pentagon - 800 estimated killed - and a fourth plane crashes in a Pennsylvania wood, perhaps in an aborted attempt to crash into the White House. More deaths, and more waiting to see what is next.

After the 7:15AM Mass, which turns into a requiem, we spend the rest of the morning in dumb witness in front of the television. Most of the local broadcasting is curtailed as CNN, CBS, ABC, beam in directly from the east coast of the US with more news and pictures, the same pictures from different angles, over and over again, as the death toll rises, as suspicion points to a fundamentalist in Afghanistan. The day goes on and the flags over the Parliament building next door go to half mast, a report comes that people are putting flowers at the doors of the American consulate which has closed for the day, a service is scheduled at the Anglican Cathedral. I worry that I will cry too hard in public and be unable to stop.

Where does this begin and where will it end? Where does God meet all this? In the sad and angry tears of people left behind? In the graceful acts of courage, reconciliation, redemption: the firemen walking into the collapsing building, the doctor with a face dusted like a shroud continuing to care for the wounded and dying? In the dying victims: the two month old child carried by his father on the plane, the same father who decided to stop the hijackers, who in turn believed that this was Gods will for them? In the chaplain killed in giving the last rites to another victim. In the widespread pain of people waiting for word of a partner, a child, a parent, a friend, waiting and perhaps praying across this little fragile linked up world where we all are nerved together in the shocking light of this new holocaust. What does God mean here?

Perhaps the answer to all this is only in the attention, the listening, the very surrender necessary in prayer. Maybe there some peace is found; not certitude, not any kind of answer except that maybe God is big enough to reconcile all this somehow. There may be such love over all. But that does not ease.

In the afternoon my friend John and I drive to a meeting in Gembrook, a new retreat center an hour away from Melbourne. The people there have just gotten the news on the radio and want to talk about it, but I can’t hear more and go out for a walk on the grounds. John joins me after awhile and soon Tom, another trustee of the place, comes down the hill from the main house, crying hard himself, and the three of us end up sitting on a fallen log at the edge of the vegetable garden, empty now at the end of a dry Australian winter, and the beginning of an uncertain spring, and after some more talk and tears we end in silent prayer again.

And I remember what happened in December 1986, when an American plane flew into a mountaintop in Greenland the week before Christmas and several hundred people were killed. I was the acolyte at the midweek Eucharist at a local parish, nobody else was attending, I asked the celebrant if this Mass could be dedicated for those killed earlier in the day. And as the service went on I knew - could almost see - that they, the dead, were there; the very same ones who had been ripped out of the sky were somehow with us, that (and this is very hard to write) there was a tear in the world and the people who died could see us through the torn fabric of the cosmos, and could take comfort, solace, nourishment in our prayer, pain, remembering of connection with them, even though that very awareness came at the time when the connection was lost. And I knew with deep certitude that they were being fed with our tears, and that what we were doing and feeling mattered and made sense on a greater level than I had understood before.

Thursday we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The building was crowded and we sang Amazing Grace, and there were readings of Paul at his best from Romans and the Twenty third Psalm and the Beatitudes from Matthew and then the Consul General spoke briefly about how touched he was by all the flowers and tributes placed in front of the American consulate by the people of Melbourne. And at the end a soloist sang, American the Beautiful: “Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears.” And so many of us cried for what had been lost and what we held dear and for what we didn’t know. And then we took the tram out to the consulate and I saw the little girl and the flowers.

After that John and I walked to the Botanical Gardens a few blocks further on St. Kilda Road. We stopped at the Shrine of Remembrance on the way, a memorial for the dead of WW1 and WW2, a tall stone building with plaques and books open to the names of people who died in Europe and the Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Far East: all the places of heroism and holocaust, places where the best and the worst of human nature was seen. From the balcony on the upper floor you can see the skyline of Melbourne and the water of Port Philip Bay, and at the foot of the monument, the eternal flame for the Royal Australian Air Force, and a small statue of a man leading a donkey loaded with a wounded soldier. The mans name was Simpson and he and the donkey tended to the wounded and dying in the midst of the battle of Gallipoli in WW1, taking water to the troupes and bringing back the wounded from the front lines for several weeks until they too were killed.

And I know that we do not need more wounded soldiers, we do not need another donkey carrying the victims of war and hatred and violence. We do not need to seek vindication of any kind. We have been there, we have done that, it does not work.

We walked into the Botanical Garden around three in the afternoon on this early spring day. Trees and flowers are starting to bloom, the weather was fine and across the pond from the tea house there was a wedding with a bride in white, men in dark suits, women in big flowered hats. Outside of the tea house we spoke to a man with three shy, grinning greyhounds named Bill, Ernest, and Wilma. In the line to be served a family in front of us - a grandmother, father and two sons around 10 and 12 - were making jokes about how much tea and how many cookies they could eat. We took our food and went to sit on the terrace outside overlooking the pond and it was a very peaceful place.

Listen: there is no reason to hate, there is no profit in anger, there is no glory in inflicting death or in dying for that matter. There is too much to love, too much to lose, too many who are worth far too much. And all we can do is keep the world open, keep our hearts open for the wideness of Gods mercy, for the depth of our connection to one another, to the constant surprise rising up of the fragility and the strength of love which does endure and will succeed. And this is heartbreaking work, but it must be done, so that we can remember again and again, how much there is to lose, how much to gain.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The First Eucharist of the Semester, RMIT Spiritual Centre

What I've been doing lately and why I've been busy...

Senior Chaplain’s Report.

It has been almost nine months since I (one pre-dawn January morning opening my laptop to get wireless email while on retreat at a monastery on the California coast) received an email from Sr. Virginia asking if I would be interested in being the Senior Chaplain at RMIT. When I read that, then all I could do is thank God that I had a fresh-brewed cup of good coffee at my side as I looked out the window over the Santa Barbara coast to the lightening Pacific and considered some of the amazing possibilities.

A lot can happen in nine months. Much of the first trimester, even the first half, had to do with easing the transition, getting ready for the move. Sr. V. needed to go through much material and farewell with many people, but her prime motivation was to make for a smooth transition for her successor, and I am very thankful for her work. I ended up with a collections of papers titled, “The Chaplaincy Code, or What Da Vinci Never Knew!”, which I often refer to for help in getting through and making sense of this Byzantine campus and its constituent communities

The second part of the journey, following the farewell, has been looking at the ecology of the place, thinking and rethinking where chaplaincy might sit and how it might move under my watch. Some of this had meant looking through drawers and files, getting a sense of where we had been as well as where we might go. A lot of it was talking to good co-workers like Libby, Okkie and Agus, Rob, Tony and James, going to meetings with the Body, Mind, Spirit committee of SSG, starting conversations with Angela and Lisse, with strangers on Bowen Street, in the Caf, Library, anywhere really, and simply listening, praying, letting go and letting be.

But the way I finally make sense of things is to write, so I decided to look at how chaplaincy had been written about in the past and then put together a new series of brochures and fliers to articulate who we are and what we are about on campus. In doing this, I realised there were three areas where I saw the chaplaincy taking place.

The first was to identify ourselves as a broad-based resource for the whole RMIT community, not unlike the fitness centre, art gallery, counseling centre or library: helping students and staff connect their educational experience with the wisdom of the major religions and spiritual traditions, offering a variety of resources to broaden and deepen both present educational experience and future endeavors. The second aim was to offer a variety of gatherings conversations lectures, performances that connect the themes of personal and corporate faith with issues of heart and soul, justice and mercy, conviction and community. The third was to follow from this and use these offerings and gatherings to create opportunities for deeper and more personal connections, for pastoral relationships and for personal counseling. As I put it elsewhere, "This might mean offering suggestions for a local worship community or a spiritual home, but it can also mean a cool glass of water or a hot cuppa during a difficult day, simply sitting alongside or standing nearby to encourage people through the trying moments when life closes an old doorway or opens a new challenge".

By all this I don’t’ mean simply “tea and sympathy”, nor is chaplaincy some kind of “Counseling-Lite!” Rather that we try to open and honor a place on this campus where questions of identity and occupation, solitude and community, fear and hope may be articulated and honoured. The great thing is that a cup of tea and a biscuit seem to help the process immeasurably! As an aside, I‘m happy to note that a number of people are being referred to us by the Counselling Centre.

In addition to the initial brochure on the Chaplaincy, we have built, with the able assistance of Kieran Dell, a brochure on the Spiritual Centre, using text from the RAC. Both these, in addition to various fliers for specific programs and series, are gradually covering the campuses and will soon be on the new website which is almost, please God, finished. In addition to this, Libby Austin designed and placed a wonderful history of the space in the glass cabinet on the first floor of the Spiritual Centre. Together with the new brochures, this exhibit points the way to increasing the profile of this great landmark building for the campus and the larger community. I would hope we can increase its popularity for weddings and other transitional ceremonies in the future, but that’s yet another brochure and one more website!

There’s a lot happening in the Spiritual Centre. Continuing from an initial offering last year, Philomena Holman, Lyndon Medina and I are co-facilitating two weekly opportunities for group meditation. “Opening Silence” happens every Tuesday at 3:30 and every Thursday at 12:30. These gatherings are open to students and staff and provide a good place to begin or deepen a meditative or contemplative practise. The response to this has been wonderful. Building on the success we had with our offerings last semester, and with word of mouth, posters and emails, the numbers are growing nicely with a high of over twenty people at some sittings! We are now keeping supplies on-hand for a cuppa and a biscuit following and, again, and this is opening opportunities for pastoral work amidst a growing community of staff and students.

For the last two years my own work in tertiary chaplaincy at RMIT and La Trobe Universities has been partially underwritten by a ministry grant from Bishop Philip Huggins and the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne. After much groundwork and many meetings over the last year, we received word that the Melbourne Anglican Benevolent Society has approved my work in “Opening Silence” as a suitable tax-deductible designated project. We are hopeful that will be lead to increased funding for the future of this particular offering in the coming year and may serve as a template for future chaplaincy programs in the future. Also with regards to funding, I want to acknowledge and give thanks for the honorarium which I received this year from SSG. This amount, along with the existing funding from the Anglican Church, and with the blessing of Bishop Huggins, has enabled me to give four plus days a week at RMIT for the transition period at the Chaplaincy. I am hopeful that the constellation of funding from these and other sources will allow this level of support for the chaplaincy to continue into the future.

Getting back to the Spiritual Centre, we started a weekly 12:30pm Eucharist in early August, and will be using a variety of nearby clergy including Tat Hean Lie (a chaplain at St. Vincent’s Hospital and RMIT alum) and others from St. Peter’s Eastern Hill as well as other ordained people from a variety of faith communities. Our numbers for these services are small, but I am hopeful that we will gather a community over time. Libby Austin continues to officiate at “Morning Prayer” on Tuesday morning at 10:00 with a group that finds that the weekly gathering of Psalm, Scripture, Reflection and silence wrapped in prayer a good and enriching experience.

I have also begun a multi-faith prayer time on Friday morning at 10:00. This is open to people of any and no particular tradition or belief and is a time of prayerful presence to all people, those who are known to us and those unknown, all who are suffering and in need in the world. This service stands as a template in case of any crisis-situation emerging in the world, whether personal, ecological or political. In addition to these offerings, the Islamic Students are using the Spiritual Centre for their worship every Friday along with a regularly scheduled time for the Christian Union later in the day. So speech and silence, petitions and prayers for all kinds and conditions of people and places are finding a venue at the old Melbourne Gaol Chapel.

It is also a site for an in-class student project! A design studio course, taught by Rochus Hinkel and Tim Schork (who were referred to us by Leon Van Schaik), has some twenty students busily working on ideas, images and models for furnishings, with plans for an exhibit by the end of this semester. A happy benefit of this is that several members of the course are now part of the meditation gatherings.

We’re running some old and new things in the Chaplaincy Centre as well. On Tuesday at 12:30pm we meet for “The Loop,” now known as “Opening Conversation”. It is a time to talk through the most important things: movies, money, politics, poetics, sex, drugs, rock and roll, economics, ecology, education, and taking care of yourself and others. We’re aiming to bring a variety of viewpoints, traditions and tastes together as we discuss some ways and means to make our lives livelier and better and asking people to bring their opinions (and lunch) for some good times together. So far we’ve just had a few people show up, but I think it is important to put the effort out and to let people know that the Chaplaincy is a safe place to discuss some of the more difficult issues. Our topic for next week is, “Is Religion Healthy?” We’re also meeting on Thursdays @ 5:00 to “listen, read, pray, explore, agree and disagree” on “Opening the Gospels!” The numbers here are low as well, but I am committed to follow this through the semester to see if it can gain some momentum.

We had another great idea but nobody came! Jillian Bull (Counselling) and I put together a six week series for Wednesday afternoon called “The Table, the Journey, the Breath of Fresh Air” to help people look for the place where past, present, and purpose meet, but found no takers. We might look to offer it again at another time in the future. I might also offer this format – it comes from an undone book I started several years ago – as a one day retreat at the Spiritual Centre towards the end of the semester. There will be more about this in the coming weeks.

As my time at RMIT increases I am hoping to do more in the classrooms. This semester I will be giving a lecture on Thomas Merton for Des Cahill’s class on Globalism and Religion and will be giving a presentation on “Teaching from the Centre” for “Teaching and Learning at RMIT” as well.

We’ve had a good team in chaplaincy this year. I have mentioned Libby Austin, whose time will conclude in September, as well as James Grant, Robert Miller, Tony Salisbury and the super student assistants, Okkie Tanupradja and Agus Effendy. I’ve spent good times with each of these people and their full mix of presence, prayers, encouragement, criticism, candour, help and humour has made this semester much less of a climb and much more of an adventurous pilgrimage in good company. I am hopeful that the RMIT Chaplaincy increasingly makes sense as a variety of communities, and if that is so, it is because these people have helped to make this ideal more of a living experience. I hope that their ministry has been enlarged and enhanced by our recent work as mine has.

With regards to our chaplains, we are now in the process of regularizing Tony’s status within CCTI’s guidelines and perimeters and increasingly his visibility within the deaf community and on the campus. I am glad to report that James Grant and I are talking about ways in which his new position as the Vicar of All Saints’ Parish, Preston, may help us support a renewed presence for the chaplaincies at the Bundoora campuses of both RMIT and La Trobe University. To look to the future, I have either started or am continuing dialogue with ministers and representatives from Baptist, Buddhist, Jewish, Roman Catholic, Islamic, and Uniting traditions to explore how they might be a part of the mix of resources and offerings sponsored and supported by RMIT Chaplaincy.

In this line, I attended the third annual Jewish-Christian-Muslim conference in July and found it to be equal parts of education, revelation and delight. I am still following through on some of the contacts made during the conference and it is still quite an amazing and rich experience which I think will bear much fruit in the future.

In late September I will be attending the annual meeting of the Tertiary Campus Ministers Association in Perth. I will be giving a talk on Thomas Merton as a paradigm for chaplaincy, and hope to gather information on how various Australian chaplaincies make sense, create community, meet and monitor the various “visiting religious professionals” that are increasingly found on campus. Following this, I will be working to establish a set of clear expectation and norms for visiting religious professionals – Visiting Chaplains? – that are consistent with a multi-faith and multi-cultural environment such as RMIT.

There’s probably more that I could add, but this already far too long for an overview and there are other things to do. I am looking to do a series on Thomas Merton and the Christian-Buddhist connection, we’re looking to start a series on “Spirituality in the Pub” early next year, I am excited about some of the creative connections coming within the larger web of SSG and the greater University, and I am already working too hard and that worries me!

Early this year I saw that one of the thing most prevalent on this campus was simple burnout. So many people working so hard on the edge, as I have said, between creativity and chaos. I’ve looked into that abyss more frequently lately, and it worries me. Too many good people work too hard and too long, it is not healthy for them and it does not model a good world for the students and the communities we serve. Part of what I hope to do in the coming year is to ask question of how we can learn and work and live as RMIT as a whole (holy?) and healthier community. I am not sure how that can take place, so I need your help. Please take some time to consider your responses and ideas on how we can make this place a better place for all of us in our great work together.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Whalley

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ordinary Sunday 17B St. Peter's Eastern Hill

I want to begin this morning with a short announcement and then with a longer confession. First, this coming Wednesday afternoon at 12:30 we begin a weekly Eucharist at the RMIT Spiritual Centre – the onetime chapel of the Old Melbourne Gaol. Our celebrant for the initial service for the semester will be our Bishop, the Rt. Rev, Philip Huggins, and I invite you to attend. Our main celebrant will be our own Fr. Tat, and please know that you are always welcome.

Now onto the confession: Yesterday I did something that I’m a little ashamed to say that I haven’t done for awhile, but something I recommend to you without reservation which is that I sat down and read one of the Gospels – this time John – all the way through. I used a translation I don’t usually use - The New Jerusalem, which is nicely poetic - and as I read I took notes on my computer: lines I liked, images that stayed, things that surprised me as I read, and it probably took less than three hours.

So I want to talk about the Gospel lesson for today, and to set it in the context of the whole Gospel in which it takes place.

The Gospel according to John starts big, with the wonderful prose poem, “In the beginning was the Word”, serving as a kind of overture with all the themes and concerns of the feast of Good News which follows. The action opens with the introduction of John the Baptist, who baptises Jesus, sees him as the Lamb of God, and recommends him to a few disciples. Jesus gathers a few more on his own; and they go off to a wedding.
It is where the first of seven signs in John will happen: seven miracles which highlight the shape of Jesus’ call and journey. This first miracle is turning water into wine at that wedding so the spirit at the end of the party surpasses that at the beginning. It is a theme that will continue.

Jesus then kicks the moneychangers out of the temple, talks with Nicodemus about being born again from above, and gets into a strange and wonderful conversation with a woman who has had 5 husbands - and here he speaks of water he shall give that becomes a well, welling up to eternal life. After more talk, and a mysterious conversation with his disciples who are telling him to eat (He says in response that his food is to do the will of the one who sent him) he heals the son of the royal official – A gentile - as well as healing a man who had been paralysed for thirty-eight years. These are the second and third signs, neither is what you’d call universally popular, bringing up issues of how you deal with outsiders as well as healing on the Sabbath; and his enemies, who are increasing, come closer, beginning to harass him, intending to kill him, sooner rather than later.

After that comes the Feeding of the five thousand: which we just heard. Jesus and the disciples are trying to get away from the increasing crowds, looking for some quiet in the country, and then everybody shows up! There’s a question and answer time with the disciples: one question: How can we feed all these people? And two answers: a) it would cost too much or b) there is a little boy with five loaves and two fish. I ask you which is the pessimist and which is the optimist? But the centre of the story comes when they all sit down: Jesus takes, gives thanks, shares the bread; the same with the fish, and twelve baskets are left over and everything is gathered together in the end. The fourth sign, the one in the middle of it all, then after such a right time, a taste of renewal, abundance, heaven, it all goes wrong. The crowd tries to make him their earthly king, and he heads for the hills alone. That’s what we heard, our lesson for the day. But going on with the story…

Later that same night the disciples are out at sea and Jesus comes to them, walking on the water – the fifth sign - terrifying them when he does so, and later confusing them further with his words, “eat my flesh and drink my blood, and live forever”. Many of his disciples go away and accompany him no more. He continues on, upsetting the residents of Jerusalem and his own family and friends, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me! Let anyone who believes in me come and drink! “

He gets back to Jerusalem with another unsettling encounter with another somewhat shady woman – this one caught in adultery, then more teaching, “If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples, before Abraham was, I am. I am the light of the world.”

Another healing, the sixth sign, this time of the man born blind, creating havoc both with family and religious authorities, and still more scandalous teaching, “I am the gate, I am the good shepherd, laying down his life for the sheep, in order to take it up again. The father and I are one: the Father in me and I in the Father”.

And finally the Raising of Lazarus – the last sign –, which opens the way to his own death. Of course, he sees it differently: One more teaching time and preparing for the end. But not an end as we might see it. End as goal, fruition, and the start of the great harvest. As he says:

“The hour for the Son of man to be glorified, to be lifted up from the earth, to draw all people to himself [So] love one another as I have loved you. I am the Way, I am Truth and Life.” And finally even more than that, for, “the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you. Peace I leave with you. Bear much fruit, love one another, you are my friends. Be courageous, I have conquered the world. As the father sent me, so I am sending you.” And he goes on his way to die, and we all know the story though it always surprises.

Seven signs, much teaching, travelling, solitude, community, food, drink, confusion, tension, life, death, resurrection and a promise that nothing is lost, all gathered together at the end; and this Jesus in the midst of it. A quick sketch of the Gospel of John; 45 pages in the translation that I reread yesterday afternoon: words that have fired the souls of countless humans in the last two thousand years. One of four Gospels, all totalling less than 200 pages that comfort, challenge, change, and fire our understanding of who we are and what we’re for.

Which is what? What is it about, why are we here, where’s the payoff? Something that is not easy to understand, not given to simple summary, requiring more of what T. S, Eliot said about prayer:

“You would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report, You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.”

Then and now, Jesus calls us to relationship, friendship, with all the hopes and ambiguities, and soft edges and good intentions that come with any relationship that extends over trials and through time. The words we hear today need to be chewed slowly, gnashed against so many existing and outworn sensibilities, consumed and made part of our daily experience in our daily work and world. For they contain news of a very foreign country many mysteries as well. We forget that life can be this deep, living in a world that gives us so many simple instructions. But the Gospels are not owners-manuals, how-to-books, easy prescriptions or proscriptions. Instead they are a library as large as life itself, larger, and just as mystifying: they must be given room to be taken seriously and they are well worth the struggle. For in any moment all or part of these words, our story, can open the door to see the Lord, taking us to the mountaintop somewhere between the wedding and the cross, where we can seize the opportunity, and receive the gift of eternal nurture and nourishment. It can happen right here; sharing food that opens the door to see the world and our place in it, our ministry in it, anew. Hope that will last, surety that nothing will be lost. Peace that passes understanding. All in the name of Christ.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Spiritual Centre at RMIT

Second Semester at RMIT

Dear Friends of the RMIT Chaplaincy

Someone once said that life kept interrupting their plans! RMIT Chaplaincy tries to plan offerings, gatherings and activities to enhance and deepen the RMIT experience, and still leave time for life to make its amazing interruptions. Here’s what we’re putting in place for in the coming semester.

First, a lot will be going on at the Spiritual Centre. Tuesday’s at 12:30 will be the first weekly meeting for “The Loop,” now known as “Opening Conversation”. It is a time to see where spirituality meets the road as we talk through the most important things: movies, money, politics, poetics, sex, drugs, rock and roll, economics, ecology, education, and taking care of yourself and others. We’re aiming to bring a variety of viewpoints, traditions and tastes together as we discuss some ways and means to make our lives livelier and better. So bring your opinions and your lunch for some good times together.

But it is not just talk at the Spiritual Centre this semester. We are joining forces with the Counselling Centre to sponsor weekly opportunities for group meditation. “Opening Silence” happens every Tuesday at 3:30 and every Thursday at 12:30. These gatherings are open to students and staff and provide a good place to begin or deepen a meditative or contemplative practise. We will be offering some old and new ways and means to enhance your silent time and you are always welcome to attend. We will be having a weekly 12:30pm Eucharist beginning this coming Wednesday, 2 August, when the Rt. Rev. Philip Huggins, Bishop of the Northern Region, Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, will join us in this ancient and wonderful rite. Our regular celebrant thereafter will be the Rev. Tat Hean Lie, a chaplain at St. Vincent’s Hospital and RMIT alum.

Libby Austin continues to officiate at “Morning Prayer” on Tuesday morning at 10:00 with a group that finds that the weekly gathering of Psalm, Scripture, Reflection and silence wrapped in prayer a good and enriching experience. There will also be a multi-faith prayer time on Friday morning at 10:00 to put the week to rest. This is open to people of any and no particular tradition or belief and will emphasize a time of prayerful presence to all people, those who are known to us and those unknown, all who are suffering and in need in the world. The Islamic Students are using the Spiritual Centre for their worship every Friday as well, so speech and silence, petitions and prayers for all kinds and conditions of people and places are finding a venue at the Spiritual Centre and we rejoice in this.

The Chaplaincy Centre in Building 11A has several regular activities in addition to the regular round of tea and biscuits, conversations and caring that have been a long tradition in that space. This semester we have new series called “The Table, the Journey, the Breath of Fresh Air” which will meet every Wednesday from 3:00 to 4:30 in a six week series of meetings aiming to help you “to consider memories, messages, meaning and hope…looking for the place where past, present, and purpose meet.” The group is co-facilitated by Counselling and Chaplaincy and is open to present RMIT staff and students. It is without charge but is limited to 12 people. For further information, call Jillian Bull (Counselling) at 9925-4365 or Robert Whalley (Chaplaincy) at 9925-2043.

And finally, every Thursday @ 5:00 pm we will be meeting in the Chaplaincy and “Opening the Gospels!” in a weekly hour-long gathering to listen, read, pray, explore, agree and disagree, question, and learn more about that portion of the Gospel read in many churches on the following Sunday. Again, everyone is welcome and tea, coffee, biscuits and sherry will be served! For more information, call the chaplaincy at 9925-2043.

We’re looking forward to a wonderful semester for the Chaplaincy at RMIT and hoping that you will be a part of it!



Thursday, July 13, 2006

Merton at his best.

Life consists in learning to live on one’s own, spontaneous, freewheeling: to do this one must recognize what is one’s own—be familiar and at home with oneself. This means basically learning who one is, and learning what one has to offer to the contemporary world, and then learning how to make that offering valid.

The purpose of education is to show us how to define ourselves authentically and spontaneously in relation to our world—not to impose a prefabricated definition of the world, still less an arbitrary definition of ourselves as individuals. The world is made up of the people who are fully alive in it: that is, of the people who can be themselves in it and can enter into a living and fruitful relationship with each other in it. The world is, therefore, more real in proportion as the people in it are able to be more fully and more humanly alive: that is to say, better able to make a lucid and conscious use of their freedom. Basically, this freedom must consist first of all in the capacity to choose their own lives, to find themselves on the deepest possible level. A superficial freedom to wander aimlessly here and there, to taste this or that, to make a choice of distractions … is simply a sham. It claims to be a freedom of “choice” when it has evaded the basic task of discovering who it is that chooses. It is not free because it is unwilling to face the risk of self-discovery.

Thomas Merton. “Learning to Live” in Love and Living. Edited by Naomi Burton Stone and
Brother Patrick Hart. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979: 3-4.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Semester break and a conference

I just got back from a 3 day conference sponsored by the Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia. Wonderful, rich, exciting time. Dealing with text, tradition and truths, exclusive and shared. I wanted to go because I didn't have a sense of what the variety of the Islamic tradition might contain, where I have a sense of the diversity that can be contained with the Jewish and Christian communities; plus I wanted some resources for speakers and discussion for the upcoming semester and the coming year at RMIT. It worked well. I made some good connections, met some lovely people, maybe even opened the door to future friendships. Here are some photos from the occasion - well, two from my morning walk and one from the last day luncheon. Now a few days of work preparing for next semester and then a short break in Sydney.

Morning in the Dandenong Mountains, an hour out of Melbourne

One of the things I love about Australia!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What I've been doing lately, and it's been good.

“The contemplative life must provide an area, a space of liberty, of silence, in which possibilities are allowed to surface and new choices – beyond routine choice – become manifest. It should create a new experience of time, not as stopgap, stillness, but as “temps vierge” – not a blank to be filled or an untouched space to be conquered and violated, but a space which can enjoy its own potentialities and hopes – and its own presence to itself. One’s own time. But not dominated by one’s own ego and its demands. Hence open to others – compassionate time, rooted in the sense of common illusion and in criticism of it.”

(“temps vierge”: French, literally, “virginal time.” Cf. in Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (page 117 of the original Doubleday edition) his use of the phrase “point vierge” to describe “the first chirps of the waking birds” at dawn near the monastery in Kentucky. “They begin to speak to Him, not with fluent song, but with an awakening question that is their dawn state, their state at the ‘point vierge.’ Their condition asks if it is time for them to ‘be.’ He answers ‘yes.’ Then, they one by one wake up, and become birds.”)

From The Asian Journals of Thomas Merton
(New Directions Publishing Corp. New York, 1975) Page 117, 177.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Trinity Sunday, St. Peter's Eastern Hill

The question we take up today, with some fear and trembling, is what the concept of the Trinity might mean. Now, I am going to put aside the 100 plus years of committee meetings that culminated in the council of Nicea, and I am saying absolutely nothing about the Da Vinci code, but I will say that the Trinity is an icon that works in mapping out the places where we find meaning in life. It’s a kind of tool to tease out and deal with the geography involved in the question of why and what the universe means: where the meaning can be found, why this matter does matter. Note then that the Trinity first deals with a question of “why” rather then “how”, and that’s an important distinction.

In an early book called, I think, Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh writes of an Anglican clergyman who had doubts about the doctrine of creation: not how, but why. He figured that God, being God, could do anything he wanted, but the larger question was why, why bother? And that makes sense. Why is more important than how. We can believe in the big bang theory, or whatever vocabulary currently comes to explain how it all begins, But the deeper question is why, why bother unless it is good, valuable, deserving of some thanks, worth the trouble? When the bang’s sounded, the work finished, the day done, is the last word “Good, Very Good”, (which is what comes in Genesis) or is it, “Gee, maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.” or is it just silence, or the sound of a lonely wind in a largely empty universe?

What the first part of the concept of the Trinity stands for, and what we stand for, hope for, look for, when we come here, what we’re banking on with our time and our talent, is that there is a heart at the heart of it. That God is at the beginning. We use the vocabulary of the tradition we stand in. And so, in words from scripture, we speak of the loving creator, the good father, who was there when the foundations were laid, the bases sunk, when - as Job puts it- the morning stars came together and all the heavenly beings sang for joy. This is the God, as we hear in this mornings reading from Deuteronomy: [who] “created human beings on the earth [and led them] by signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power. The God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; that is at the centre of it, that there is no other.” That is the why we are looking for, that’s our foundation for the rest.

We show up here to try to follow that value and to let those values incorporate in our lives: taking in the stories, traditions, statutes and commandments, making them make sense and sing in our own time. It’s quite a task! To keep the horizon that wide, the story that pointed, the hope supple, alive and still new, that the universe might mean this much. And isn’t easy and it can go so wrong. A Professor of mine in seminary said that sometimes people come to church to be godly and they end up being sort of lordly instead. Religious thinking can go wrong! My God is big and mighty and so am I! My God is bigger than yours! My religion has more room, more truth, more style, better liturgy, we’re more absolute, more tolerant, more evangelical, more catholic, we have more members, we have better taste! We get so godly we move on to be lordly, we get so godly and lordly that we forget what a gift it is to be simply human.

To be human is to be on an unfinished journey and to move on in hope, just walking together step by step on the creative faithful journey that goes on to the centre of it. Because that recalls us, remembers us, renews us as part of that beloved inspired creation, as children of God. And that moves us close to Jesus, close to the one who lives out his life fully in hope and love in the very middle of the human way.

Jesus is a picture of the where and why of God’s love, and sometimes it is difficult to keep his whole life in focus. We see him so clearly as savior, redeemer, Lord of All, the one who wins through death and meaningless. And he is that, no mistake: but throughout scripture and the tradition we see another side to his life, which is Jesus as the hidden one, the victim of the day, sore, oppressed, wounded, silent, crushed. This is not always easy to see. It is easier to look at the triumph than the tragedy, but tragedy happens, and the good news is that God has room for us there. Jesus takes place, makes room, meets with people who hurt, are bruised, battered and occasionally broke. He walks with all the incomplete and unfinished folks on the way, doing the best we can with what we have at the moment. In Jesus, the God of the creation pitches a tent right down on the ground of human dwelling. And we find that this kingdom is built with the rawest kind of compassion and camaraderie right there in the dirt.

In Jesus, God walks through the very centre of the human condition, and breaks open from the inside, the deepest pain and promise of the human heart to be made whole, to finally connect.

So that’s two out of three of the trinity. We come here to remember how big God might be, that God – beyond all conceptions, theories, and theologies we might want to use of - that God comes first, before all things, and in Jesus we come to see God close at hand in all that it means to be fully human. So there’s the why (and even the how) of God and humankind coming close to meet and mingle and walk and live and die and rise together in the middle of this unfinished, often unkind - and sometimes it seems altogether undone - world. And that is why and where we need the spirit.

We need the spirit to continue the work of this renewed family: brooding and breathing and weaving together this new creation, this true family of humankind, which we see in the life and light and lens of Jesus. We need the Spirit to simply and silently sew this new awareness, in silence, compassion and care, into every cell, every seed, every tear and stone and drop of rain, each and every, so that this love and care of God we see in Christ may be all in all.

Go back to the book for that. Where the spirit hovers over the creation before a word, a song, or a big bang for that matter, was ever heard. That same spirit is seen and spoken in words of the prophets, That same spirit shines out in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of this Jesus, who shows up just in time to ask us to come and see the nature of hope and grace, and take on the yoke and promise that comes with living and walking with God in the middle of the human journey.
And the same spirit comes to bind us together as we strive to give hope, strive for justice, promote healing, renew and forgive, make for community. That same spirit softens our hearts, keeps our pity fresh and our compassion clear, binds us together in hope in our calling, leads us to begin again.
So in the end, the trinity is an icon that aims to show us the complexity and simplicity of God: that God is creating all things from the very beginning, that God is the healing in the very heart of the human condition, and that God is in the intimate embracing of every good relationship. For in the life of the Holy Trinity we find our hope.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Waking - Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go

The Waking published in 1953 from The Complete Collected Poetry of Theodore Roethke

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Night at the Movies!

Cinema Nova proudly presents
A discussion on The Da Vinci Code

With RMIT academic John Lenarcic and chaplain Robert Whalley
A theoretical examination of the popularity of this cultural phenomenon.

Thursday May 25 at 6.45pm

Join Lenarcic and Whalley in an insightful forum as they consider the theoretical underpinnings of why THE DA VINCI CODE is so popular.

Lenarcic suggests that flirting as it does with the notion of "deity as goddess", Dan Brown's work is at heart a deeply feminist parable. This in part would explain its mega-success. His discussion will view THE DA VINCI CODE as a Rorschach test for modern society: a cultural phenomenon upon which the wider feelings of the interested community are projected - mistrust of authority, for example. In this skepticism of those in control there breeds an obsessive fascination with conspiracy theories in some (Just ask Oliver Stone!). Some would argue that THE DA VINCI CODE is just fiction. Yes, says Lenarcic, but it's actually more like "faction" - the blending of the real and the imaginary. The desire of the public to make it more real than it is perhaps is a reflection of a hunger for greater knowledge in the philosophical sense. The fact that we have THE DA VINCI CODE primers, guide-books, lectures and film forums is a positive sign: Consumers of pop culture don't just crave entertainment, some aspire to a deeper understanding of the experience.

To deepen your understanding of the experience – buy a ticket at the Cinema Nova Box Office today. Screening Followed by discussion. Bookings are essential. Tickets: $14.00/$10.00

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Sixth Sunday in Easter, St. Peter's Eastern Hill

The 20th century poet Robert Frost once wrote something to the effect that you should take the light things seriously and the serious things lightly. That line kept coming to mind this week as I was living with the Gospel for today which is John the evangelist at his most seriously sublime with words that, at least for me, point to the very centre of the good news of the saving love of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Listen:

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love... love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends.”

So how do we, can we, respond to these amazing words? How do we receive this message? How can we listen and live out our lives in light of the - almost beyond belief - possibility that this is all true, that the Good News is this good? That God is with us as a human being giving his life over as a gift, in order to share the road as a friend. God is my friend! I’ve heard that line before – we all have - but still, God wants to be, is willing to be, is here to be, my friend. That’s the line that stayed with me all week: a friend.

It is a surprising turn in this book of the New Testament. On the whole, the Gospel of John has a very high Christology. When he looks at Jesus, He sees a holy priest, a man with great authority who always is at the centre of the scene. That’s his take on it. You would never get a Jesus who is amazed at the disbelief of the crowds, as you do in Mark, you would never get a Gethsemane scene where he asks that cup might not come to him, there’s no sweating blood here. The Jesus that John describes lays down his life with serenity and ease. He proceeds through the actions, signs, miracles, teachings with the majesty of a master with his students, not unlike a Greek sage of the same time. He almost seems slightly above it all.

Except for this line: You are my friends. And that brings another level of discourse, another vantage point to the picture, a different focus, a spaciousness of understanding, of relationship and intimacy that would not be possible if it were not on the horizontal ground of being friends. Seeing God close-up is one thing, Moses sees that and takes off his shoes and trembles, but when God comes close to offer friendship it is another matter, it requires another posture, another response. In this case, this morning, it requires a bit of a detour, so bear with me.

Let me tell you about my friend Greg Eaves. I met Greg in the autumn of 1976. I was taking a seminar on the sociologist Peter Berger, and knew most of the people in the classroom that first day except for this English guy who showed up late and was funny and smart and a little shy. So, we talked a few times and went out for a coffee and a beer after that and the years went by. Now he lives in England and we talk every couple of months and whenever I get there I stay with him and his partner, Julia, and I am hoping that next year they’ll get here for a stay,

But there was one day, maybe six months or a year after we first met, when he was telling me something, and it might have been boring, or something I wasn’t that interested in, - because Greg has a way of going on sometimes, or maybe I was just in a different mood, I don’t know. But when I looked at him at that moment, nattering away about something, I realized that we were friends, not just folk who did stuff together sometimes, but friends. And I knew it was likely that it would be forever, and that who he was and what he did, was, would be, had to be, important to me, was tied up with who I was and what I wanted and this friendship was going to be something that mattered and lasted. And it hit me, in a way I find difficult to understand and not easy to articulate, that this friendship was and would be one of the most important things in my life. And so it has been.

Through good times and bad, job setbacks and personal problems, depressed times, the deaths of parents, health issuers, and breakup of relationships and work woes and all the struggles and pains and glories of being human together. We still get together, after all these years, and we look at each other. Two old guys somewhat battered about by time and toil, and somewhat surprised by the love, joy, life, in the middle of it. Greg plays the guitar and often we start singing old songs from the 60s or 70s, with great noise and rather badly I’ll admit, which Julia thinks is funny, if a bit trying, but she suffers it, as friends do. And it is one of the dearest parts of my life. For friendship is a very common and wonderful thing.

And Jesus, in the Gospel of John for today, calls us friends. That’s the amazing turn; in the middle of this epic prose poem, while the hero moves on towards his freely chosen sacrificial death, he gathers up this rag-tag group: folk who have been following along, getting whatever knowledge, techniques, reassurance, hope, they could gather from what he said and what they saw, and he turns to them and says, “you are my friends.” It is such a surprise, coming in John’s great and glorious Gospel, that this son of God, this sign of love, “how deep. How broad, how high”, should choose to pitch his tent with us in the middle of this muddy journey, as a friend on the way. The joyous scandal of John’s Gospel is that God’s very flesh comes that close, gets familiar with us, calls us to be friends.

Iranaeous, an early Bishop of the church, once said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. We have seen the face of the liveliest human in this Jesus, this Jesus our friend. And there is our hope, that beyond belief and disbelief, beyond doctrine and commandment. Beyond all the plans and politics of the church and the world, there is a relationship of acceptance and presence, of love and delight. God is with us as a friend, with each of us, with all of us! All of us, for friends take on the whole package: our whole selves, our souls and bodies, our doubts and loves, our triumphs and tragedies. With our greatest plans and our deepest fears and failures, the moments of majesties, the times of betrayal - both done to us and by us, bigger than all that. Closer than all that; as we go through all the sad tones and the great music that comes with being human, we find we don’t have to sing it out alone.

For now all this journeying, each of our stories and each of our separate lives are set in this new context, in the company of God, Jesus, as a friend. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, God is willing to come towards us, arms outstretched in friendship to join us, like the father of the prodigal, like love walking in with a human face. In the very middle of the way, every moment, every day, in the very midst of all the painfully outstretched contradictions that come in the business of being human.

Jesus our friend is willing and able to meet us in the very middle of everything, with all the fears of a tentative life and an empty death. He is willing to share the road to the centre of tragedy, to the wondering why, to the time and the site that makes no sense, to the very foot of the cross and further: willing to meet us everywhere, even there, and to be with us close through the middle of it all as a friend will. What if the world is truly that wrought, that complex, that intimate, and we matter that much, to God?

We are here to take that chance, to move into that relationship, to live into that lively truth, that God wills to be intimate with us. What amazing good news it might be! And Jesus said, “You are my friends”.

The Lord be with you.

Friday, May 19, 2006

and another wonderful poem

I read this almost 40 years ago when I was a sophmore at University of Oregon. 1968, when I am told I had a wonderful time. I've forgotten many things since then, but this poem always stays with me. Enjoy it.

On the death of William Butler Years, W.H. Auden

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom, A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

Have a good Friday, with this wonderful poem!

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisiably
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightening.
Do my words seem blasphemous? - Then
Open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him
We wake up inside Christ’s body.

where our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and he makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in his light
we awaken as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)
translated by Stephen Mitchell

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Where does the crucifixion make sense?

“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Lent is always a good time to ask questions, so here are a few for today, reflecting on the Gospel we’ve just heard.

First, how does the crucifixion of Jesus mean salvation for us? How does it appear, not as a masochistic son placating an angry and sadistic father, but as a sign of life, as a sign of life meeting and transcending death? How can we make sense today of this crucified Christ who waits to meet us at the end of the road we follow in this Lenten season?

Second, working from that first question, how do we live out our understanding of this saving life and death in our own living and dying, as friends and followers of this Jesus? How do we live our lives, order our priorities, spend our days? How can we be real and religious at the same time? How do we do truth here and now?

So, let’s look at the Gospel. John is setting out two very complex patterns of truth, two threads interweaving like a strand of DNA in the very centre of the story he tells. First, there is the majesty of the savior walking through history, the king, the son of a king, coming among us and reminding us who and whose we are. In the royal pilgrimage we see the story of a great holy hero, the picture of Jesus reminding us of the immeasurable distance between humankind and God, as scripture says elsewhere, “My ways are not your ways.” John focuses us to see the immensity of God, the transcendence, how big the reality of God is, how far it all extends, how long it might go on.

But St. John also lets us know how close God is willing to come in the way of Jesus: close enough to meet foreigners and fallen women, noisy tax-gatherers and inquisitive temple personnel, self-proclaimed saints and sentenced sinners too. To every one of us, Jesus comes to offer the ultimate intimacy of God, to speak love, make love, let love live in us: meeting with us in the very middle of reality, closer than the polarities and disparities of in-group and out-group, “us” and “them,” success and failure, life and death. In the great majesty of Christ, God comes closer to us than we are to ourselves. And we come here to practice the ongoing discipline of a kind of double vision in order to see it clearly in all its immensity and intimacy. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said to the World Council of Churches in South America last month:

‘We are the servants of a monarch, the monarch of a nation set free by God’s special action to show his love and strength in their life together, a monarch whose authority belongs to the present and the future as much as the past. We are witnesses to the consistency of a God who cannot be turned aside from his purpose by any created power, or by any failure or betrayal on our part. We are more than servants or witnesses, because we are enabled to speak as if we were, like our king, free to be intimate with God; God has stepped across the distance between ourselves and heaven, and has brought us close to him. When we speak directly to God, we speak in a voice God himself has given us to use.’

Big and small together, majesty and familiarity, for what might appear to be two and are really one. In the Gospel we see the mighty picture of a monarch who has come from so far to be close to us in the value and the voice and the face of the friend, the sibling, the lover. All this is in the fourth Gospel: both a mystery and a love story. And all the time it is pointing further and deeper into the story, into the mystery, into the moment where Jesus prays that we may be one with him as he is one with the Father. “I in them and they in me… so that they may be one as we are one. That is the connection, the communion we are called into, the closeness that comes to us, comes to all of our life, all of it!

All of our lives: that is the tough part of the Good News; not just in the peak moments, the happy travels, the good years, the precious harvest. But in the times when life is spare and sad, when crops fail, when death seems to stalk us, in that time as well. When the crowd comes unfriendly and the end is in sight and is nothing we would have hoped for: Then he is one with us as well, God and Jesus intimate with each of us: meeting our failures and our endings: when the snakes bite, the wolves come, the story pours out to a sad ending. But the question then is, how can that take place?

John writes: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” It is an odd picture isn’t it? But it is such an odd and very complex world.

My niece in California has been studying homeopathy for quite awhile. I know almost nothing about it, but I think it works on the principal that a little of a bad thing is a good thing, a little poison, an infinitesimal amount, carefully applied, can save you from a larger poison. It’s close to more mainstream medical methods that use dead or weak cells from a virus contained in the right package to teach your body to kills live cells from the same virus. There can be trouble when the cells are stronger than the person they are supposed to cure, so care needs to be applied.

So if we are one body in Christ, than that cross, which is the last place we would look, may be the very place where Jesus meets the poison, turns the corner, takes the cure. Maybe (like the miracle of the serpent in the wilderness) the cure comes when we can see him take the road we were fated to walk and find the light there that we could have never seen. Maybe that’s the instance where the DNA gets a new start, finds a new path, a wider road. And from the place, he lights up the way, shows us the way home right through the darkness.

Listen, if anyone shouldn’t die, it would be him. So if he dies, meeting death as we all will, and if we are, as he says, one with him, then all our deaths meet his death and his life there. In Jesus, God love sews the thread of a majestic love and a deep connection, which stay down there in the middle of everything. That unspeakable intimacy, where God hugs the world with the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross, threads through life and death, success and failure, ending and beginning, weaving past, present and future into one eternal now where love is all in all.

It is important to state that it is not easy to understand how this could be. As a person who still doesn’t know how his computer printer works or when it is going to run out of ink, I honestly don’t worry too much about the mechanics of it: how all the parts fit together or how it might be diagramed. For, as I go along the Christian way, I worry less about the names or the lines on the map and learn to rest more in the heart of the journey and the assurance of coming home at the end. But what I do know, and what is very important to say and remember and to relax into is the fact that we are created, redeemed and sanctified, breathed, by the God who can, and would will to, take this kind of route, to go to any length to bring us home.

But we’re not there yet, we’re still on the road. Sometimes we get hints, guesses, keeping hope alive, and other times we seem to be lost in a dark way in the middle of the journey. But the Gospel tell us the good new is that God is on the way as well, has taken this route, walks besides, will see us home. All we need to do is live towards the light, do what we can, to allow God to live in us, begin again, day after day, now after now, to learn over and over to live in that love, face that face of forgiveness, mercy, renewal, humility, hope. And to keep letting God love us when all that seems impossible anyway, when everything falls flat and all we can do is cry, “Where in this hell are you and why have you forsaken me now?” The Good News, though it might not seen good at the time, is that God can be there, has been there, will be there, too.

Rowan Williams said this at the council:

the nature of our conviction as Christians puts us… in a certain place, which is both promising and deeply risky… where we are called to show utter commitment to the God who is revealed in Jesus and to all those to whom his invitation is addressed… We are not called to win competitions or arguments in favour of our ‘product’ in some religious marketplace… [instead] we have to be ready to witness, in life and word, to what is made possible by being in the place of Jesus the anointed – ‘our reasons for living, for loving less badly and dying less badly’... And we do so by giving prayerful thanks for our place and by living faithfully where God in Jesus has brought us to be, so that the world may see what is the depth and cost of God’s own fidelity to the world he has made.


St Georges' Anglican Church, East Ivanhoe 26 March 2006