Star Gazing

A couple of weeks ago we drove up Mount Seymour to watch the Perseid meteor shower away from the bright lights of the city. It was a lovely evening with excellent viewing conditions – warm and clear with very little moonlight. We parked at the far end of one of the parking lots, where there was a large enough gap in the trees to show lots of sky, and lay on a rug by our car with eyes fixed on the heavens.

We weren’t alone in our contemplation. All along one side of the lot there were parked cars with small knots of people sitting or standing nearby – or in one case, snuggling in nests of blankets on top of the car itself. So every shooting star was accompanied by a chorus of ‘ooohs’ and ‘looks!’ or ‘I missed that one’ breaking through the gentle background murmur of good friends exchanging confidences and swapping jokes in the dark.

The stars, those that stayed in their place as well as the shooting ones, were beautiful. And so was the feeling of human companionship and the shared appreciation of a special night. It was a reminder for me of one of the things I love about Christian spirituality – that it’s a spirituality only properly done in communion with others. I personally love and need time alone but I also relish the companionship of a shared spiritual journey.

Look up from time to time and see the beauty singing from the skies. Look sideways often and see the beauty laughing and weeping in human faces. Look inwards now and again and see the beauty springing deep within. All three viewpoints are called for if we’re to open our eyes to behold the beauty of the divine.

Not so nice

Nice girls aren’t supposed to be angry – even when they’ve grown up into not-always-nice women – neither, of course, are nice Christians and definitely not nice priests. So I am, just at the moment, failing the niceness test because I am angry. Specifically I am angry about the position of ordained women in the Church.

Partly this comes from watching the Church of England trip over itself in its wearily long drawn out journey towards having women bishops. But, before we pat ourselves on the back in the Anglican Church of Canada, it’s worth remembering that the numbers of women in leadership here are hardly stellar. Out of 42 bishops all of 5 are women. Even the clerical leadership in our diocese of New Westminster is overwhelmingly male.

There are four common responses I’ve encountered when this issue is raised:
1. We’ve had more women in the past, just not now.
2. Surely we’re beyond the stage of needing to look at gender.
3. We asked women but they said no/no women applied.
4. We just appointed the best individual for the job.

All very reasonable, all very persuasive on the surface. But none of these responses seems to be adequate enough to allow me to pack away my anger and revert to nice Ellen. Instead I want to answer:
1. So? A past justice only highlights a present injustice.
2. The numbers make it clear that no we are NOT beyond that stage.
3. What is it in the culture that makes women reluctant to take on leadership in the church?
4. What is it in the culture that makes it easier for us to see gifts in men than in women?

I would be very interested in people’s answers to those last two questions – do feel free to post them as comments.

So, for now, I’ll live with being angry. I’ll try and bring it into my spiritual practice – maybe using one of the angrier psalms as a way of finding words to express this in prayer; reminding myself that though the meek are blessed so also are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

And, for now, I’ll carry on trying to be a woman leader in a male dominated environment without either becoming “one of the boys” or so alienated as to be unable to work for the change I hope to see.

 

June-uary Jesus Prayer

I was getting the bus on a typical wet and cold Vancouver June-uary day this afternoon to take me to the DTES (downtown east side for those not from these parts). It’s not an attractive place to be heading to on a grey day and I wasn’t feeling at my chirpiest to start off with. So, both to shift my mood and make the bus ride a little more purposeful, I resorted to what is my default go-to prayer practice of the moment – the Jesus Prayer.

This is one of the oldest forms of Christian prayer as well as one of the simplest. Its traditional form is ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner’. The two halves of the prayer are like two wings beating together to carry you into an awareness of God’s presence. Its simplicity invites repetition and provides a focus in the midst of other activity – like taking transit (public transport if you’re reading this from the other side of the pond).

Some people struggle with the identification of themselves as a sinner because it takes them into places of judgment and shame. I actually like it. Firstly it’s accurate. Secondly it reminds me that I don’t have to be perfect to be in God’s presence and to be loved by God. Thirdly it makes me feel at one with all the rest of glorious, muddled and sinful humanity. This, in turn and slightly contrariwise, then often leads me to change the last phrase to ‘have mercy on us’ so that I can include all the rest of the bus in my prayer.

The other gift this prayer gives to me is the sense that I’m not praying alone but am caught up in a whole sweeping river of prayer across the centuries as well as across the world. The language might not be what I would choose if I was writing the prayer today, but it has achieved its own holiness through its faithful, hopeful repetition by others, alike and different from me, who have been striving to be aware of the presence of God in their everyday lives. So I can get over myself and dive in with the rest of them.

I won’t pretend that the Jesus Prayer brought sunshine and beauty into my afternoon but it did remind me that God is present in the grey and the ugly making them a little less gloomy than they first appeared.

Thoughts for Trinity Sunday

Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday – the day when the preacher is entrusted with the task of explicating one of the most mysterious of Christian doctrines. In the seminary where I trained in Oxfordshire the old tradition was that all the seminarians were sent out to preach in the local parishes each Trinity Sunday to prove that their theology was up to scratch – and, of course, to give the country parsons the morning off.

Now I personally believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is easier to experience than to explain. We experience it whenever we know God in three different ways – as the mystery that transcends and holds all being, as the loving companion who walks with us through all the sorrows and joys of life, and as the spark of love and ache of yearning at the deepest depth of our own self.

But in order to help us experience this reality – or, at least, to help us put words to our experience – we often need poetry more than theology. So here are a selection of poems, prayers and reflections which open up the Trinity to the heart more than to the head.

 

Two from Janet Morley –

Giver of Life,
Bearer of Pain
Maker of Love.

O God our mystery,
You bring us to life,
Call us to freedom,
And move between us with love.
May we so participate
In the dance of your trinity
That our lives may resonate with you
Now and forever.

One from Meister Eckhart –

‘Do you want to know what goes on in the heart of the Trinity?
I’ll tell you.
At the heart of the Trinity
The Father laughs, and gives birth to the Son.
The Son then laughs back at the Father,
And gives birth to the Spirit.
Then the whole Trinity laughs,
And gives birth to us.’

One from St Augustine –

Lover
Beloved
Love

Two from me –

God known and unknown
Beyond
Beside
Within

Infinite love,
dancing creation,
holding all being in life.

Passionate love,
our dancing partner,
beckoning us into joy.

Intimate love,
heart dancing Spirit,
breathing our fears into hope.