Friday, 22 February 2013

Tempation of Christ

 Pictures sometimes convey more than words and this depiction of Christ in the Wilderness by Eric Armusik is one I find compelling. As a child, I had an illustrated bible with a fantastic picture of Jesus and the devil. Jesus, blond, blue eyed and clad in white robes was standing on top of a cliff looking very disapproving and the devil, a magnificent winged creation, was hovering in the air, gesturing to all the dominions of the world, or perhaps making the suggestion about Jesus chucking himself off the cliff. The devil really did look to be having more fun, and maybe that was partly the point of the picture! The more subtle depiction of the devil in this picture is as a dark and corrosive presence whispering in our ear, more like the brooding inner voice, an aspect of ourselves, than a discrete enemy we can easily banish. This picture also has strong connotations of death, the hooded figure, the ravens in the background, the darkness with only streaks of light. It makes me wonder how much the wilderness is about God coming to terms with mortality and of the ways in which Lent and Easter asks us to look at our mortality, and then perhaps beyond it. The temptation Christ rejects in the wilderness is the temptation to cast off mortality, the choice he makes is to embrace the human condition fully, and all it says about hunger, insignificance, vulnerability, failure and death.

Sunday, 17 February 2013


 I'm not too keen on the wilderness, don't know about you?
I do understand the principle, the idea that in the wilderness we have to completely turn to and rely on God just as the children of Israel did, and to be tempted and resist, just as Jesus did. I just think that most wildernesses, not the ones we play act in Lent but the  real ones such as  loneliness, pain, depression, bereavement, poverty or failure aren't actually that good for us. When you are going through a real wilderness, I suspect it is as common to feel abandoned by God and fairly useless as it is to experience any great deepening of faith ( though I think when we look back on a wilderness patch, we can sometimes learn from it.)
It was interesting this morning to think about the idea that Jesus was baptised just before going into the wilderness and how much he would have needed to hear that he was God's beloved son with whom he was well pleased. Maybe the biggest danger when going through a wilderness is that we can forget we are beloved and that God is still with us?

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Confession for dogs

Anyone who thinks dogs are not capable of guilt has never owned one. A Lenten video for all dogs with souls:) It's also hilarious!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Women Bishops and new ways forward

The Church of England has published, for those who still have the heart to engage with it, a consultation document called Women in the Episcopate: a new way forward.
It acknowledges that a way to admit women to the Episcopate must be found as a matter of urgency and that outcome of the 20th November vote has left the Church of England in a profoundly unsatisfactory and unsustainable positionThe majority of the rest of this document set out the considerable problems faced in resolving the differences over the proposed legislation.It was only published on Friday and I've already read frustrated comments that the working group don't seem in a position to get things any further. One section did really make me sit up and read more carefully though. It was this line:
"It was recognised in those conversations (of the new working group) that a different mode of discourse was now needed, to avoid the mistake of expecting Synodical processes to be able to carry all the weight. "
It is quite clear that whatever legislation is placed before Synod will be unsatisfactory either to traditionalists opposed to women bishops or to those in favour and so will be in danger of not being voted in. Perhaps the Church will say, "We have to have women bishops. These are the three proposals on the table. One is more suited to traditionalists, one more suited to those campaigning for women bishops, one is a middle way. You can vote for which you prefer, or you can abstain. The way with the most votes wins. Period."

Such a solution would, of course, have its own serious pitfalls, not least the danger of split votes, very close votes and of something voted in that the majority in the church had not agreed to. Really a simpler option might to change the way Synod works and not require a two-thirds majority and I wonder if this is what is being considered? One thing is sure and that is that creative and genuinely new ways forward need to be found if there is not to be a repeat of November's fiasco.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Start as you mean to go on

When I say, "start as you mean to go on", I refer to the media and not to Justin Welby. We are told that Welby used his first public address to confirm his opposition to gay marriage ; I rather think he had little choice but to speak on the issue given that he was immediately asked this question by journalists. I do wonder what they expected him to say? Maybe something along the lines of, "Actually I rethought that one last night, and d'you know what, I'm pretty cool with it." (Now that would be fun! Can you imagine the fuss?)
A much more thoughtful journalistic response to today can be found  this article by Robert Piggot which considers the burden of this role. The idea of him as taking a huge burden on his shoulders made me think of someone taking up their own particular cross- perhaps a daunting and lonely task. I really think a constructive thing the  church could do is pray a bit more. In particular they could pray for Justin Welby as I suggested here . God knows he might need it.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Forgiveness and emotion

 I have been looking at a video about the mass shootings at Sandy Hook entitled, Forgiveness doesn't happen overnight . Forgiving others is an important part of christian teaching yet there is often not enough understanding that forgiveness is a journey. When people have been on the receiving end of  very serious hurt or atrocity then to demand or force forgiveness is extremely unhelpful. It also puts us in danger of judging - how many of us would find it easy to forgive if we were a parent whose child had been killed?  I've known people who have told me that forgiveness is not so difficult because forgiveness is not an emotion, it is simply an act of will. All I know is that the way I forgive is from the heart, so this doesn't make much sense to me. Indeed we are told in the bible that forgiveness must come from the heart.
The problem with forgiving from the heart is usually because those trying to forgive are experiencing extreme anger or even hatred. Most of us can relate to this. A problem people are less aware of is that sometimes it can be hard to forgive due to a lack of emotion. This can be particularly true of some survivors of childhood abuse  because it is common for abused children to build up a barrier between themselves and their emotions as a coping mechanism. As an adult it may be hard for a survivor to identify any emotion connected with the abuse- let alone say whether they have forgiven.  A social worker I knew told me that one of his clients had been so damaged by a childhood during which she both witnessed and was on the receiving end of appalling physical and sexual abuse that she would laugh quietly while recounting horrendous events and once told him that, "she didn't give a shit" about what had happened to her.  Some survivors of abuse have had their own identity and emotional foundations so damaged that naming or even completely "feeling" emotion can be difficult. It is  also quite possible to be generally emotionally literate and functioning but to find that you experience an emotional void when it comes to the area of the abuse.

So what should be the attitude toward  forgiveness in christian thought and teaching? It is important that we do not sideline forgiveness. The ability to know ourselves as forgiven and forgiveable, and in turn to forgive others, is the huge liberation at the heart of Christianity. When we can truly forgive from the heart then the thing we have forgiven has no more power over us and we begin to bring about healing in others as well as ourselves.

Any teaching of forgiveness must though be handled with care and sensitivity. Perhaps we cannot forgive from the heart until we have reached a place where we are emotionally secure enough to do so and the journey is a learning and healing process that needs to run its course.


I Taught Myself to Live Simply

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
to look at the sky and pray to God,
and to wander long before evening
to tire my superfluous worries.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
I compose happy verses
about life's decay, decay and beauty.
I come back. The fluffy cat
licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
and the fire flares bright
on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
occasionally breaks the silence.
If you knock on my door
I may not even hear.

Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966)

I've thinking recently about simplicity and mindfulness. We cannot dismiss or turn our backs on all the issues and stressful things that we hear about on the news and experience in our lives, however we can achieve a distance from them and let go a little more. This poem seemed to sum it up.