On Life and Love

On Life and Love

Sermon for St Martins Community Church Collingwood

theotokos and child 867, st sophia istanbul

Mothers Day (11/5/14)

There is an image that I want to work with today, and it is this image of space: round, circular, almost fluid but with a definite skin, like a one of those ginormous bubbles that warps and wobbles as it wafts through the air. Would you like to outline it with me, like I’m doing, doesn’t matter what size your space is, just use your hand to imagine its roundness, no sharp edges, plump like a balloon.

In the Orthodox tradition of theology, there is an icon of Theotokos – the God bearer, in which you can see this space in Mary. In Orthodox theology Mary is honoured, not as equal to God herself, but as the ultimate model disciple, the one who said Yes to God, and welcomed God into her inmost place. Mary’s love for God brought life and that life brought love into the world. Mary’s womb is a picture of this space, a safe circle of love in which God the Son is given human life. Again, use your hands if you want to, imagine what that space is like, imagine it in yourself, for even if you don’t have a womb, you have a space like that in which God dwells if you have said yes to welcoming Jesus into your life as the Son of God. That is the space into which God has poured God’s own love for you into your heart, through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5).

So, briefly, let me make a few points from the passage from 1 John chapter 3 and makes some links with the whole of the bible story.

1 John 3:1 – See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Why are we God’s children? Because we have been loved!

In the first place God loves and therefore brings a people into being, and it has always been thus:

  • in creation – In the beginning God-who-is-Love created the heaven and the earth (as described in Genesis 1 and 2)
  • in the creation of Israel – In sermons we have recorded in Deuteronomy, Moses urged the new community to obey the commandments of God so that they might live long in the land. This is the first time the commandments were summed up in the shema – to love God and neighbor as self. Keep loving well and you will live well.
  • and then in Christ – For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)
  • and finally in life after Christ – As Paul teaches in Galations, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

God’s cycle of life unfolds thus: Love leads to life and life leads to love and on and on it goes.

1 John 3:10 – This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

If we have life as God’s children, then we will love – love and life go together. We know this by what Jesus taught us: love one another as I have loved you, by this everyone will know that you are my disciples (John 13). Which is a renewal of the two greatest commandments from the Jewish law and the prophets which Jesus came to fulfill: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love Your neighbor as yourself.

As a consequence of the new life we have as Christians, we love, and that in fact is proof of life from God. Life leads to love. Indeed, to return to the image of Mary’s womb, we labour love into life.

1 John 3:14 – We know that we have passed from death to life because we have loved one another

Love leads to life and life leads to love. And on and on it goes.

Interestingly, this life begets love thing is not just a test for Christians. There is a wisdom proverb that suggests this is true in a similar way for all of God’s creatures: ‘He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.’ (Prov 21:21) It’s a fact of life, that those people who believe in love, find love! Though sometimes that requires them to find love in the least likely of places and sometimes it requires bloody hard work!! But why would we assume love does not require self-sacrifice and commitment?

1 John 3:15 – This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

So, Love and life go together, it is the very cycle of life, the thing that keeps us all going, and it sits within us, in this space, this round bubble of beautifulness, the womb like void of our inmost parts, the pause at the end of the outbreath.

Can you visual again that roundness we outlined with our hands, do it again if you feel like it, pretend it is the lightest of balls, filled with delightful, oxygenated breath. We are going to locate that space in the cycle of our breath.

Pay attention to your breath for a moment. Everyone in the room can do this – if you are sitting near a little one or anyone else who might be struggling to understand my instructions, you could help them to do this with you, even babies can become conscious of their breath, if you do it with them. Take a deep breath in, slow it down a bit, and then a big breath out. Don’t force it, just notice what happens in the cycle. You breathe in – out – and then, notice, notice what is there just at the end of the outbreath – there is a little pause, a little space. Breathe in naturally, just let it happen because you will keep breathing whether you like it or not. Breathe in, and out and there, notice there is a little, natural gap, a waiting, a pause before the cycle of life begins again.

In the cycle of the breath, there is space, a beautiful, womb-like space of rest, and that, is the space where love happens.

Love requires space. If I love you but in my insecurity I move in too close, what will you feel? Smothered. But if I love you and in my insecurity I guard myself too closely and keep my distance what will you feel? Lonely. Love is like fire, it needs air to burst into flames, but too much or too forceful and the flame will blow out! The difficult, painful lifetime work of love, is learn how to negotiate this space.

In silent prayer practice, which by the way, is a very ancient way of praying for Christians and one which we would do well to recover in our time, as a tonic for our chronic addiction to busyness and noise, we learn how to expand that space at the end of the outbreath, so that is grows, not unlike Mary’s womb. It becomes the welcome space for God, the God-shaped hole if you know that phrase, sometimes I think of it as a vast cathedral filled with prayer or even a dance floor where my spirit is deeply moved. In silent prayer we get to know ourselves and our limits. We know where we end and God begins and that space where paradoxically we are fully ourselves and might encounter God fully in Godself, we learn how to love God without smothering or withdrawing. We can sit still and just be.

That is how we must learn to love. Its not a passive thing, if we are to love like Jesus then we must pursue justice and righteousness and serve one another in love, so learning how to maintain an inner stillness before another person involves outward activity. But we must learn that if we stay with whatever is present in the space, the cycle of life and love will continue, and we will be ok.

Mother Theresa, one of the twenty-first century’s greatest example of mother-love. She loved hundreds of thousands of children, knowing every day that there would be no end to their suffering. I can only imagine the burden of going to bed each night knowing that the children you love will be hungry again tomorrow. Your children will be sick and in danger of physical harm again tomorrow. Indeed, Mother Theresa struggled with depression, her love was a burden! And yet, through prayer, through seeing Jesus, through seeking out Jesus in the face of every child, she could get up in the morning and do what she could. She didn’t try and solve everything, and she didn’t hide herself away, she just loved any child that came into her view that day, loved them as if she were loving Jesus himself. We don’t know at least two spiritual tricks Mother Theresa had to keep herself in the cycle of love and life: she knew this space and she prayed to Jesus there, and she loved each person in front of her as if they were Jesus.

Love is never easy, that’s why we who love in the name of Jesus are all called saints.

A final, personal example. It is mothers day and I am here with you without my children, as are many of you – both children who have been born to you and longed for children who have not been born. As we speak, my sons and my own mother are standing in the rain on a soccer pitch in the suburbs, playing sport on a Sunday which was definitely not part of my perfect family plan of years gone by. My sons also have a step-mum, whom they love, who they will phone at some point in the day, to wish her a happy mothers day. And they also have a God-mother (who coincidentally doesn’t have biological children of her own) who they have made a card and gift for and we will make sure they see her at some point in the day today for a special mothers day hug. Now, even just scheduling all those things into the day is a piece of work, but I can tell you it takes a lot more than that for me to facilitate a phone-call from my children to the woman who replaced me as wife! How is that possible? How is it possible to keep loving even when life is not as we would have it?

I do it by breathing. I find that space at the end of the outbreath and I let it calm me. I let whatever is there in that space be there, and I let life continue – the breath in comes regardless of whether the pause in filled with joy or grief. The breath will leave my body eventually even if I try and hold everything in. A funny thing happens when we accept the life for what it is: broken, a work in progress, full of contradictions, we learn that vulnerability is essentially to love, there is no love without risk, but big risk – embracing life in all its glory, results in big love! My life is overflowing with love today – not much of it easy, some of it distinctly uncomfortable, but it is love none-the-less, and the cycle of life and love goes on.

‘Two things can be true at the same time’

I preached at St Johns Camberwell last Sunday and someone actually asked me afterwards if I was going to put the sermon on my blog so they could read it again!  Well, I am not immune to flattery, so here it is.  May you find some encouragement in it for your Advent, wherever you are and whatever season you are in.

Readings for the day:  Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-38

If there is one thing I’ve learnt from the trials of life, it is that ‘two things can be true at the same time.’

About three years ago, I was driving the car, boys in the back seat and tears streaming down my face.  I don’t remember the particular difficulty that day, but I remember trying to explain this newly discovered truth to my children, then aged four and five: just because I was crying, didn’t mean the world was about to end (which it can seem to a young child when his mummy is upset) because two things can be true at the same time.   All of a sudden, Jono started to giggle, which of course made Chris giggle, but I couldn’t see what was going on because I was driving the car!  So I asked Jono, ‘what’s so funny?’  With a huge smile in his voice I heard him explain that if you are both happy and sad at the same time that would mean one side of your mouth would be ‘going like this’ and the other side would be ‘going like this’: and he was using his fingers to push the left side of his mouth into a grin and the right side into a frown!  All three of us were cheered up trying to contort our face into this half smile half frown.

It is true that today, the first day of Advent, is new year’s day in the Church’s calendar.  However it is also truth that new year’s day is still a whole month away, in the Gregorian calendar.  In Advent we wait for the Lord’s coming, even as we sit in a beautiful church proclaiming the Lord has come.  Often when we receive news, for example, we experience at least two things being true at the same time: happy for ourselves at winning first place, disappointed for our friend who came 32nd.  Excited for our friend who is moving on, but anxious for ourselves being left behind.

This ‘two things can be true at the same time’ theme is starkly evident all through-out Advent; directing us to find a way to embrace multiple truths and complementary explanations rather than withdraw into the false security of simple answers.  We declare the coming of everlasting peace in Christ, even as we know soberly that any peace in the Holy Land is unlikely to last.  We trust in the eternal healing of body and mind, even as we watch our loved ones slip away into disease and death.

This ‘two things can be true at the same time’ theme is also the key to reading Scripture in Advent.  When we hear passages about the ‘end times’, as we did from Luke’s gospel this morning, we need to listen with an understanding of multiple dimensions of time.

The End Times could be literally that, it’s certainly how the passages are present to us in Scripture, but it is referring to events in the future so in terms of time is in an unprovable reality.  Then again, it is easy to imagine an end of time with our present catastrophic environmental issues!  But this is not unique to our time and place in the universe, catastrophic threats are regularly a part of civilisation: did you know, for example, there was a massive environmental crisis in Rome towards the end of the Roman Empire?  They’d cut down too many trees to keep the Roman baths hot and steamy!  When I was in year 9 my history teacher asked the class if they thought the world was likely to end soon – about a third of us put up our hands, such was the fear of a Nuclear War.  So it’s possible the world as we know it could end, and as God-fearers it is natural to assume God is somehow involved in that.

However, it is also true, allegorically, that each of us will have our own, personal, end of time upon our death.  And it is also true that there is a constant death to ego and immaturity as we grow up, ‘death to sin’ as the apostle Paul would be it.  Furthermore, it is true that there are ends to an era: personal and societal.  Sociologists have been talking about the end of The Modern Era for at least thirty years, which is and of itself is an illustration of two things being true at the same time.  For surely much of Modern culture has ended, but the remnants of it linger on.  This is simply the nature of any transitional period, cultural or otherwise, and what God ushered in with the birth of Jesus was most definitely a transition period: the Kingdom of God is both now and ‘not yet’.

So, how do we respond to the message of the sign of the times?  I have two suggestions.

Sean Thomas, Billboard (Sign of the Times)First, we listen with open ears and minds.  This is where a spiritual reading of Scripture really comes into it’s own.  Yes, there was an original intention of the author; yes, there are various scientific readings of the text which illuminate it’s meaning; but, if the Holy Spirit inspires the Scriptures it is in the quickening of new life and new understandings within us; and so we also listen for the personal and the private meanings this passage might have for us.

I was speaking to someone yesterday who had noticed that whenever a big change was on the horizon of his life, there was a plethora of ‘signs’ that became too vivid to ignore.  Another friend described this aspect of life in reference to the footy field: sometimes everything just falls into place and a team takes on a magical quality where everything works synchronistically and they are unbeatable while that moment lasts!

So, we need to pay attention to what God and the universe might be suggesting to us in the present.

Second, we need to make a choice.  When I was driving the car with both tears running down my face and children giggling in the back seat, I needed to choose to shift my attention.  I needed to choose to focus on the positive.  In Advent terms, I needed to choose joy, love, peace and hope, even in the face of grief, fear, anger and despair.  Choosing the Advent path doesn’t mean the world ends – it will still be new year’s day on the first of January – but meanwhile, all the while, I will be striving for the eternal peace, love, joy and hope that today’s new year’s day proclaims:

Jesus has come: Jesus is coming.
Jesus is a baby: Jesus is God who died on the cross and rose again.
Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father: and Jesus lives in my heart by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

May the Lord bless you and I, as we chose hope, joy, love and peace together.

Toward the Endless Day: The Life of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel by Olga Lossky

Translated from the French by Jerry Ryan (Notre Dame; University of Notre Dame Press, 2010)

Never before have I understood the idea of meditating on the inspiration and example of the ‘saints.’  But Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, modern day saint of the Orthodox church, has definitely got under my skin.  She lived through the entire twentieth century and is the quintessential Western woman – a mish mash of ethnic and religious backgrounds but steadfast in her adult identity as a Western convert to Orthodox Christianity.  I’ve written something about her theology previously, which you can review here.

There are two particular connections with Elisabeth’s life that I’ve been reflecting upon.

First, her career path as a woman theologian was convoluted by both personal and global distractions and it is tempting to think that if she’d been free to devote more time to theology and less time being the bedrock for her family (or staying alive during the second world war) she might have had a greater influence.  Her work as a theologian really took off in her ‘retirement’ from mothering and teaching after her husband died: then again, her ‘retirement’ was forty years long!  There have been times in the last few months where I’ve felt a bit discouraged at the particular circumstances of my life and I’ve been rebuked by Elisabeth’s example.  She pursued her passion for theology amidst the most trying of circumstances, and she certainly didn’t have the benefits of global broadband access!  I don’t think I would have persisted through the agonisingly slow pace of research in the 1930s and 40s.

Elisabeth’s determination to live life to the full, including all her ‘responsibilities’ as mother, wife, daughter and neighbour, under girds her theological work.  It is a determination articulated through the Orthodox notions of ‘theosis’ – of participating in the life of the divine so as to become more and more like Christ over one’s lifetime, and experience an unfolding union with God through the holy spirit.  It is the determined life of holiness.  The biography offers vivid witness to an entire life spent with Christ – through the initial excitement of youth and conversion; the spiritual dryness of difficult years; reward for faithfulness through inner peace and external integrity; passionate maturity; and glorious union with God and all that she has known as Love on the last day.  May the Lord find me as faithful on my final day.

The second aspect of Elisabeth’s life which is inspiring, comforting and challenging (all at the same time) is her relationship with ‘Father Lev.’  Twenty years her senior, they met when Elisabeth was first seduced by the beauty of Orthodoxy as a young woman studying theology at Strasbourg University.  Father Lev was a missionary of sorts, who was first rector of the first French-speaking Orthodox parish in Paris.  Their friendship formed over a mutual passion for ancient Orthodoxy engaging with the new world of the West and a life-time of correspondence commenced.  Father Lev and Elisabeth were never lovers, Elisabeth was ‘called’ to the vocation of family and Father Lev was ‘called’ to the vocation of a monk.  However, after the death of her husband (a difficult man who suffered from alcoholism and spent regular periods hospitalised or unemployed) Elisabeth and Father Lev negotiated a complex intimacy of soul mates, clear that they were ‘in-love’ and equally clear that their love would not proceed along the usual lines of such affection.  Elisabeth was in her 50s by this time and Father Lev in his 70s!  They lived in separate countries and maintained their separate lives, as life had ordained for them.  Elisabeth’s happiness was in knowing the spiritual fruit of union with God – observed in both her life and that of her soul mate.  She was determined that their’s would be a ‘higher’ union, consummated with Christ on the ‘endless day’.

How quickly we reduce passion to sexual intercourse! How skeptical we have become about a person’s capacity for celibate wholeness!  Elisabeth’s example brings me great joy because it testifies to an erotic-spiritual fulfillment available to every person regardless of life circumstances.  There is a photo of the two of them around the time of their greatest intimacy: I knew they were in love from first glance, I didn’t have to read it in the story – it was there in Elisabeth’s smile and Lev’s easy posture.  Olga Lossky doesn’t idealise this situation; undoubtedly their holy intimacy was maintained through tremendous effort, anguished determination and hours of prayer.  But I am glad that their testimony stands unadorned, open to criticism yet confident in it’s own integrity.
I wish this biography was a little better written.  I don’t know enough to know whether it’s in the original text or the translation, but it could do with a decent editing!  It’s the first time I’ve ever been inspired to ‘write a book myself one day’ utilising the extensive archives of Elisabeth’s personal correspondence.  For now, all I can say is, I am so glad to have met this amazing woman.

Ray of Darkness by Rowan Williams

(Cowley; USA, 1995)

Ray of Darkness is a collection of ++Rowan’s sermons from the mid 1990s around key Christian dates, creeds and dogmas.  I dipped into the relevant Holy Week and Easter sermons through-out the past weeks.  The sermons never failed to move me.  This is a book to have on one’s bookshelf for those moments when you are in need of a 5 minute spiritual pep talk that goes beyond banal platitudes.

I wish they were available on line, but unfortunately I’ve not found them anywhere.  However, you can access ++Rowan’s latest sermons on the ABofC website, including his 2012 easter day sermon.

I’ll share just one quote from ++Rowan which sums up my Holy Week experience (and ends this series of reddress posts):

In this week, the holy is redefined and recreated for us. The temple is rebuilt as the body of the crucified Christ, not a place of exclusions, a house of merchandise where we must barter to be allowed in, trading our daily lives, our secular joys and pains for the sacred currency of ritual and acceptable pure gifts that will placate God, but the cross by the roadside, unfenced, unadorned, the public and defenseless place where God gives us room.

Holy Week, with all its intensity of ritual and imaginative elaboration, comes paradoxically to break down the walls of self-contained religion and morality and to gather us around the one true holy place of the Christian religion, Jesus himself, displayed to the world as the public language of our God, placarded on the history of human suffering that stretches along the roadside. This is a weekfor learning – not management, bargaining, and rule-keeping, but naked trust in that naked gift.



Easter Day: Unfurling Resurrection

I am celebrating Resurrection Day at a friend’s glorious property at Foster.  The day begins with a prayer walk through the bush garden, including a trudge down the beautiful fern gully, lush from yesterday’s rain.  It is the unfurling ferns that grab my attention today as the most potent symbol of Resurrection becoming manifest in me.

Recently, I went to a retreat day facilitated with the work of inspiring Melbourne artist Eleni Rivers.  A larger than life painting of unfurling ferns has stayed in my memory to direct my spiritual path.  Personal growth is a rather slow unfurling, which requires the co-ordination of sun and air and attentive passer-by to fulfil its destiny.

Resurrection has required much patience from me of late.  All the elements are there but growth and restoration will not be hurried.  It cannot be bullied into premature blossom or willed into instant glory.  All the work required for my resurrection is complete: Jesus is Risen and death is defeated.  But the appropriation of the gift is not at all like that first New Day.  In me, it takes time.  But all that is required is to face the sun each day and remain open to growth of God’s work in me.


Holy Saturday Spirituality

I found out earlier this week that my Masters essay on Liminality has been accepted by Peer Review for publication in Crucible On-line Journal (I’ll post a link when it comes out).  It is a piece of work that continues to inform my daily living with Jesus in liminality and in my present stage which is just beginning to step out of liminality.  Relevant today, is part 3 of the essay: Holy Saturday Spirituality.  There’s a link to the full essay on the reddress writing page.


1. A Pregnant Pause

The Christian Faith is essentially the Faith of the Resurrection:  those who knew Jesus as a man walking this earth would not have told and retold the events of his life, had they not been totally transformed by their encounter with the dead-now-risen Lord Jesus (Alison 1993, 5).  All that we know about Jesus is passed on to us by people who have experienced the Resurrection and know that the Life and Death of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is not the end of the story.  We receive what has been passed on to us, just as the Apostle Paul has said, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

In the Apostolic witness, the first Holy Saturday is remembered by its absence.  Some of the first disciples saw the body in the tomb late in the day immediately before the Sabbath, then some of his disciples saw the tomb without his body, early in the day immediately after the Sabbath.  The actual Sabbath day is missing in the narrative and we can only infer that the disciples proceeded with Sabbath observance as was customary.

So also, Holy Saturday is absent in the Paschal Triduum Liturgies.  “Holy Saturday is the truth of our lives, so close to where we are that it serves as the heart of the paschal liturgies but is itself, as the nature of the divine-human encounter, a mystery beyond even the power of liturgy to encode” (Farwell 2005, 69).  The Saturday Evening Vigil technically takes place on the Sunday (because Sabbath starts at sundown) and alludes to the waiting, the expectant hope of the Christian who already knows that Resurrection Day is coming.  It is this absence of word and action on Holy Saturday that distinguish it as day of liminality.If the activity, or lack thereof, on the Sabbath day can be inferred, so to can the affectual experience of the disciples.  All their hope had been placed in the man Jesus, and his execution essentially brought that to an end.  The disciples dispersed, Peter denied even knowing his Beloved Rabbi, Joseph of Arimathea looked after the necessary burial arrangements in secret, and the women seem to have done what needed to be done without comment.  It is impossible to imagine that they were not dejected.

Alan Lewis has noted that the pregnant pause in the middle of the Passion-Easter narrative acts as a boundary “which allows the mind and heart easy movement and a fertile cross-reference between the two.  For the first-time traveller, however, the boundary is a frontier-barrier obstructing forward progress” (Lewis 2001, 43).  For the first disciples, Holy Saturday was the end.  “So we have not really listened to the gospel story of the cross and grave until we have construed this cold, dark Sabbath as the day of atheism” (Lewis 2001, 56).  This distinction between the first disciples and all other believers who encounter Jesus through their testimony is significant for the present discussion of liminality.  Christians know Holy Saturday is not the end of the story because Jesus is encountered only as the Risen Lord.  For believers, liminality on Holy Saturday is not a natural consequence of reading the Jesus narrative, it is a result of getting lost.  We have the simple outline presented to us:  Jesus lived, died and rose again.  But then something in life brings us to our limits and we become disoriented.  We forget part, or all, of the story.  We cannot match the meaning of the story with the testimony of our own lives, the symbols have become detached from their meanings and cease to make sense.  If we lose our way, we regress to the testimony of those traversing of the story for the first time: a day of despair when God had not yet turned things upside down.

In his discussion on Resurrection, Rowan Williams describes how the experience of liminality is integral to encountering God in the dead-now-living Jesus on Easter.  Encountering Jesus who is ‘wholly other’ in the Resurrection draws us into a liminal moment in which we no longer fully understand life, death and where to locate God and ourselves.  “The resurrection can and should operate as a central symbol for the purification of desire and the de-centring of the ego, because the necessary first moment in the resurrection event is one of absence and loss” (Williams 1982, 77).  The pregnant pause in the narrative is a confrontation.  Do we read the dramatic placing of Christ in the grave as the end of the story?  Put the book down and descend ourselves into hopelessness?  Or do we choose to lie ourselves down in the tomb next to Jesus and trust, however blindly, that something mysterious, beyond our current capacity to describe or define, will bring about an ecstatic finale?  Imaginatively placing ourselves into the narrative as the first disciples illuminates the story for us, but it is not the way of discipleship.  We follow the way of Jesus when we choose to become his disciples, and this means we follow him through the grave.  This is Balthasar’s question:  how does the Christian accompany Jesus through the supreme solitude of Holy Saturday?  How do we share in “being dead with the dead God” (Balthasar 1990, 181)

2. Solidarity with Human Solitude

“In that same way that, upon the earth, he was in solidarity with the living, so, in the tomb, he is in solidarity with the dead” (Balthasar 1990, 149).  For von Balthasar, Jesus descent into death is the last leg of the Incarnation – the completion of Jesus’ human form and the key to understanding Holy Saturday.  There is one exegetically difficult text from 1 Peter 3:19 about Jesus being active in death – ‘preaching the gospel to those in prison’ – but by the fourth century there was enough speculation about his underworld experience for it to make it into the creeds with the line ‘He descended into Hell.’  Von Balthasar argues that whatever speculative suggestions we make about hell and Jesus ‘descent,’ we must not deny the completeness of his death.  “It  is a situation which signifies in the first place the abandonment of all spontaneous activity and so a passivity, a state in which, perhaps, the vital activity now brought to its end is mysteriously summed up” (Balthasar 1990, 149).  The result of Jesus’ death was the sure communication of the gospel to all humanity, across all time and space.  Von Balthasar expresses this poetically in this imaginary conversation between Christ and the human person:

“You leap down from a high cliff.  The leap is freely made, and yet, the moment you leap, gravity leaps upon you and you tumble exactly like a dead stone to the bottom of the gorge.  This is how I decided to give myself.  To give myself right out of my hand…. This was the plan; this was the will of the Father.  By fulfilling it through obedience (the fulfilment itself was obedience), I have filled the world from heaven down to hell…. Now I am all in all, and this is why the death which poured me out is victory.  My descent, my vertiginous collapse, my going under (under myself) into everything that was foreign and contrary to God – down into the underworld: this was the ascent of this world into me, into God….You are in God – at the price of my own Godhead.  You have love – I lost it to you….This was my victory.  In the Cross was Easter.” (Cited in Farwell 2005, 71)

Death has been a part of universal human experience since the first Adam, and hence death must be a part of the total solidarity with humanity by the second Adam.  This is why Christians are able to speak of the Cross as an act of love.  It is a radically self-giving commitment to remain in relationship with humanity, even to the extent of losing oneself totally.  Upon death Jesus the Divine-Human is entirely dependent upon God the Father for his Redemption.  Jesus, by virtue of his human nature, has become powerless.   This is the pathway forged for Jesus’ followers through the valley of death.  At the extreme of human limitation, the only way beyond comes not from ourselves, but by the Loving action of God whom is beyond.   “Holy Saturday is the day in which God has died ‘into’ our very own death and sanctified it, in all its stark, immovable threat” (Farwell 2005, 69). What then, does Paul mean when he urges us to be dead with the dead God?

“The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 5:12-6:11)

In the liminal moment, when we at last grasp our own finiteness, we are forced with this choice:  do we continue to trust only in ourselves, to know only that which is available within our human limitations; or do we open ourselves to the possibility that we are not as superior in the universe as we have previously thought ourselves to be?  The ego must accept that it is powerless to project far enough into the world to make sense of all of life.  We must let go of the expectation that we are in complete control, that we are masters of our destiny, that we are autonomous beings who need no Other.  Jesus models this perfectly for us.  As Incarnated Being he submitted himself entirely to Father not only in obedience, but in existential dependence.  “Because the Descent is the final point reached by the Kenosis, and the Kenosis is the supreme expression of the inner-Trinitarian love, the Christ of Holy Saturday is the consummate icon of what God is like” (Nichols 1990, 8).  We stay in the moment, and wait for God to intervene, just as Jesus did.  All of which sheds a soft dawning light upon Jesus’ words, “For those who want to save their life will lose it.  And those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25-26).

Good Friday: suffering and/or sin?

Stupidly, I answered my phone just as I was heading out the door to the Maundy Thursday service and Vigil last night.  Bad news.  

I’d been wondering how I was going to fill  5 hours of silence (2 1/2 up till midnight then back for another 2 1/2 before morning prayer).  It turned out to be no problem at all; though crying in silence is a contemplative discipline I’ve not yet mastered!

And so it came to pass that in the early hours of this morning I was contemplating the distinction between sin and suffering, and wondering what proportion of which, Jesus is dealing with on the Cross this Good Day.

The cathartic power of Good Friday is surely indisputable.  Over the past 24 hours I have sat in silence with embodied stories that remain unknown to me, yet I am certain are full of hurts and disappointment: that is just what life is like, no-one escapes without scars.

As I slowly managed to redirect my prayer from my own pain to Jesus’ pain, I reread the gospel passages where he predicted his passion.   The language of sin is not there.  The Messiah was expected to usher in God’s judgement certainly, but a large part of this was justice: vindication for those wronged and suffering.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think ‘Good News for the poor’ outweighs ‘Severe Warnings for the sinner’ in Jesus’ earthly teaching.  Or is it just that I am so indoctrinated I no longer read myself in the part of the religious authorities and other powers-that-be whom Jesus condemns?

Having re-read the gospels, I went on to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, where the work of Jesus is explicitly tied to the dealing of sin, in order to bring people to righteousness. Indeed, this is something the cross achieves that the Law never could and reads much more individualistically, although that is perhaps an overly Western bias unintended by the original text.

Sin and/or Suffering: in what consciousness do I approach the cross?

I am a righteous woman burdened by the choices of another to my great grief and dismay.  Yet I am also a flawed woman who even in my determined holiness has impure thoughts and arrogance before my Maker.  I am irrevocably and irredeemably both, but is there a logical priority as I lay my prayers before God?

If I have understood him correctly, in his book titled Knowing Jesus, James Alison argues that the cross draws out our identification with Jesus as fellow victims, but it is the resurrection that startles us into the realisation that we would also have been numbered amongst the perpetrators of the violence against the Son of God.  Certainly, this has been the pattern of my own inward journey over the past few Easters.  I agree that it is the Resurrected Jesus who disturbs our psyche into true knowledge of God, rather than a frenetic arousal of guilt seduced by a sadistic emphasis on the cross as Jesus’ punishment for each individual sinner.

As I have struggled with injustices done against me, in the normal course of human living, I have come to believe that there is no forgiveness without justice.  That poses a significant problem because in most injustices such restoration is not present or even possible.  Hence, the only way forward I have found for myself, is to ‘borrow’ the justice of the cross.  Jesus ‘pays the penalty for sin’ – not my sin, but the sin of (s)he who hurt me!  In that moment when I am fully seen, I am restored.  And having been restored, I am free to turn towards my self and acknowledge my own transgressions.

Perhaps I am only describing my personal experience here, certainly I have not done the thorough theological work required to convince myself of my own thesis beyond dispute; but even if this is personal insight, it has guided me through Good Friday.  I needed the long hours of the night this day to wade through the rivers of tears and exhaust the self-absorbed rage of my woundedness.  Then, tended and strengthened by the angels, as Jesus in the garden of gesthemene, I am capable of fulfilling what is required of me.  But what is required of me by God is the full disclosure and repentance of my own manipulation and vindictiveness.

I acknowledge myself as sinner at the foot of the cross, but I find that I am only capable to do so, because Jesus has first acknowledged me as sufferer.  And into Your Hands Lord, I am happy to commit my Spirit.

Holy Week: Franz Lisst Via Crucis

Last night was one of the more extraordinary moments of my life.  I went to church at my new parish St Johns Anglican in Camberwell, for a Stations of the Cross with music by Franz Lisst, played by a (more than) talented parishioner.

Lisst wrote this music in 1871 from a place of deep contemplation and personal prayer.  It can only be described as ‘avant-garde,’ even by today’s standards.  Strange then, that it sounded familiar and so very ‘accurate’ as a soundtrack to the last hours of Jesus’ life.  I have wondered today about the ‘sound’ of the mystery which Christians across the ages have found in contemplation.  The music took me directly back to Jerusalem 200o years ago and walk the ‘stations of the cross’ with Jesus.

Here is a youtube clip with some excerpts from the piano solo version, if you’d like to get hint of the experience.

By the close of the service I was shell-shocked, as indeed I would have been if I had followed Jesus on that dark day.

Lisst’s music is beyond words; as is the darkness of the cross, and the mystery of God’s love hidden in the deepest of shadows there.

Holy Week: Being-in-love with God

Amidst all of the possible thought trails to pursue in Holy Week, it is The Liturgy of the Bridegroom that continues to grab my attention.  In particular, I have been mindful of the great burden of broken love which human beings almost universally share and the wonderful, therapeutic opportunity to confront that loss and pain as we turn our eyes towards the Cross of Christ.

Hence, I’ve decided to share the final of four sermons which I recently delivered at Southern Cross Ministries, a contemporary/charismatic Anglican Church in Melbourne.  Theme of the sermons, Being-in-love with Jesus, is taken from Bernard Lonergan’s epistemology of conversion and knowing, and is material that I will continue to develop for 2 other (very different) contexts this year.  Not only is it the result of intense theological reflection from the past year, it is the result of three and a half years of hard living and an awful lot of prayer.

A sermon in response to Song of Songs 2:1 – 3:5

Romance as the Pathological Religion of Western Culture

The psychology of love is a massive cultural phenomena in our Western. It is, in fact, one of the things non-Western cultures criticise us for. It is our obsession; our pathology; and our replacement for religion in a secular age. As our culture moved away from seeking meaning in religious notions of transcendence, we projected those spiritual needs onto our human relationships. Romance has become our religion.

A case in point: I saw the movie Any Questions for Ben? when it came out last month. Poor Ben is going through a quarter life crisis: he feels cut adrift, lost, yearning for something more and for his life to ‘mean something.’ So does he turn to religion, spirituality or even psychotherapy? No, he turns to love! He finds it within himself to commit to one woman and trusts in that relationship to satisfy these inadequacies he feels.

There is a pressing need to address the unrealistic expectations on intimate human relationships of all kinds – parental, romantic, platonic, etc. And whilst I am going to be focusing on romance today, much of it can be transferred to others whom we are close to, and especially to our mothers and fathers.

If we seek ‘god’ in a human person we will always be disappointed. But more subtlety, if we seek the source for our own personal transformation in another person, we too easily fail to integrate any fleeting transcendence within ourselves. It is not that God is absent from human relationships, indeed, frequently we experience the wonderful grace of God in our intimate relationships, but the source of God is not located solely within them as the object of our affection. It is a glimpse of heaven, but we live here and now on earth.

Robert Johnson is a Jungian therapist who has written on this issue:

“…What we seek constantly in romantic love is not human love or human relationship alone; we also seek a religious experience, a vision of wholeness. Here is the meaning of the magic, the sorcery, the supernatural in the love potion. There is another world that is outside the vision of our ego-minds: It is the realm of psyche, the realm of unconscious. It is there that our souls and our spirits live, for unknown to our conscious Western minds, our souls and spirits are psychological realities, and they live on in our psyches without our knowledge. And it is there, in the unconscious, that God lives, whoever God may be for us as individuals.”


Mystical romantic Love

When I first read the song of songs as teenager, I really could make no sense of it. The unfamiliar imagery and the mysterious whisper or sometimes snigger, that seemed to accompany its mention. I was taught that there was a huge debate about this book of the bible. Some say this is a book about a man and a woman, so its a book about marriage and about the sanctity of marriage. Others say that it is an allegorical book about loving God, and the mystical experience of knowing Jesus in the thrill of the holy spirit. I have no doubt in my mind now that it is both. And the reason that it is both is because, in the words of Richard Rohr, the way we love anything, is the way we love everything.
I have a friend who used the Song of Songs as the basis for a major art project last year. I greatly anticipated the artwork for many months, for she is a beautiful and skilled artist, and she was trying a new technique with ink. When she shared the finishe product I was surprised and taken aback. She created a book with selected words from Song of Songs on one side, and images of indigenous shrub on the other. It is a comment on the Love of God that we can discover through nature!

St John of the Cross was a sixteenth century mystic, who wrote his own love poetry to God, some of which was directly modelled on the Song of Songs, with the voice of the bride and then the bridegroom taking it in turns to declare their experience of love. He found such spiritual nourishment in the Song of Songs that when he was dying, he requested the priest read from the book of Song of Songs, unstead of the usual prayers for the dying. This John once urged a younger Christian, “Enter within yourself and work in the presence of your Bridegroom, who is ever present loving you.”

He is picking up on Ephesians chapter 5 of course, where St Paul describes the relationship between Christ and the Church as Bridegroom and Bride. We must be careful to always remember that in Paul’s meaning each of us as individuals are only a part of the Bride, Christ is ours by virtue of us being one with one another, but this language of bride and bridegroom is not uncommon amongsts spiritual writers across the ages. Singing love songs to Jesus is not new and by no means exclusive to the contemporary charismatic worship movement!

In a sermon on Loving God, Rowan Williams remembers a story about St John of the Cross and wonders, do any of us love God so intimately?

“When St John of the Cross was staying at a convent over Chrismas, one of the sisters saw him, when he thought no one was looking, picking up the figure of the child Jesus from the crib. He hugged it close to his chest and then, with eyes closed, danced around the crib for a few minutes. Well, that, it seems, is love of God: a devotion that makes people more than a little dotty, that produces an all-pervading warmth and delight, an incommunicable gladness beyond all words. ‘My beloved is mine and I am his.’”
Is this kind of crazy love just a personality thing? Some of us are more emotional than others and they are the one’s who have this kind of relationship with God in prayer? St John of the Cross entered into his great love affair with God when he was kidnapped and imprisoned. The Dark Night of the Soul was literally for him, 9 long months in a dark, damp, medievil cell. Upon his escape he began to write poetry of what had happened in the darkness, the breaking through of light and love as he cast himself entirely on God.

Spiritual writers describe love and suffering as the two great doorways into knowledge of God. Both are experiences which wrench our hands off the steering wheel; bind our fate to the whims of another; shame us into knowledge of our own powerlessness. Hence, it should be no surprise that the darkest moments of our lives have a unique capacity to throw us into the arms of God.

Rowan William’s deals with the relationship between this mystical love with St John of the Cross describes, and other more rational forms of love: love is a decision, love is a choice, love is a set of actions putting the other person first. Yes, love is all that but the Song of Songs and the saints who pray them, reveal to us the possibility of more. And then he gives some great advice:

“If the ‘love of God’ means nothing to you…, then love the lovers of God. Love the love of God in Francis or John of the Cross, Dick Sheppard or Mother Theresa, Aelred of Rievaulx or Charles de Foucauld. To love love-in-someone is, by the courtesy of heaven, to love love and so to love God. It is to turn our eyes toward, to choose and desire the truth of all truth, the beauty of all beauty. It is to look and hope in and love and serve and know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, from whom and for whom everything in heaven and earth exists, even the cold, flabby, and fantasy-ridden hearts of human beings.”


The agony of falling-in-love

There was a bigger reason why I struggled with song of songs as a teenager, beyond knowing what this mystical sort of love was. Really, I just didn’t didn’t have enough life under my belt to really get it. Maybe, and this is a hint for some of the young people here this morning, maybe if I’d had The Message version I would have cottoned on a little sooner. The bride’s dream at the start of chapter 3, Eugene Peterson translates:

“Restless in bed and sleepless through the night, I longed for my lover. I wanted him desperately. He absence was painful.”
At age 15, I knew not enough about falling in love to grasp the deep longing and great confusion of feeling within the text. Listen to the repeated refrain:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not awaken love until it is ready!”
In recent years I have found myself often repeating a little mantra to myself: “it is possible to feel two very different things at once.” Intense passionate love is like that. In fact, Robert Johnson would say, suffering is an essential ingredient in romantic passion. It is agony to awaken desire for a lover with whom we are not able to share a bed – whether that is for practical or moral reasons, temporary or permanent. Now, when I read the text I feel the complexity of love! At once joyous and burdensome.


Love’s work

Gillian Rose has been one of my greatest delights in the past year. She is a contemporary philosopher who wrote a book in 1997 while she was dying, called ‘Love’s work”. In it, she describes “unhappy love”. Human love which is bound to be thwarted in this life – be it because it is unrequited, the object of our affection does not share the same passion for us, even when maybe they once did – or maybe the man/woman of your dreams just is nowhere to be found! Unhappy love includes all those cases which are deemed immoral or socially impossible – to be married and in love with someone who is not our spouse, or to be in love with someone who is too young for us, or considered inappropriate in some way; it is not uncommon to be strongly attracted to our teacher, our boss, our doctor, our priest: none of which are appropriate relationships to pursue. Finally, unhappy love can be purely because of impracticalities – they live on the other side of the world, you meet at the wrong time, or , in the worst possible circumstances, one’s Beloved has passed away and you are seperated by death!

In any of these relationships, unhappy love is the passion of loss. And interesting in the Song of Songs story, the woman is searching the streets for her Lost Lover. Romantic love, at its heart, is about the desperate human search for love! Some pyschologists like to ham up the idea of falling-in-love as addiction or an illness, but maybe, in one way, falling-in-love is a sign of good health! When a healthy body requires food we experience hunger pains: could not love pains be a function of a healthy soul telling us what we need? In which case, falling-in-love can be processed as a spiritual discipline: the soul’s prescribed remedy for deconstructing the immature ego and unearthing the true self. A drive to reclaim the perfection of Love as it was first known in pre-human form. Hence, Gillian Rose writes, unhappy love initiates an investigation into lovelessness. We come face to face with the epic journey to recover our sense of Beloved-ness.


Created from Love

The Love of God is woven beautifully into all God’s creatures. And what I have tried to describe in my previous sermons is an insight from the Dominican spiritual writer Sebastian Moore. Our desire for another, is triggered by a deep memory of ourselves as desirable. Some look or word from whatever archetypal man, woman or child is required to grabs our psychic attention, and we rediscover the Love out of which we were formed, as the Psalmist has said, I loved you in your mother’s womb, you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

The way we love anything, is the way we love everything. The different types of love that we experience – for brother, for friend, for children and parents, for our heros, for our Lovers, for our enemies, all Love comes from the one source: God. And God, who IS love, has poured God’s own love for us into our hearts by the holy spirit. So the very source of all Love is within us, buried deep within our foundation as human persons, but released by life as we encounter love and discover ourselves to be Beloved in the eyes of others, starting of course, with our mothers, even before we sense the cool of a breeze on our cheeks. This is Sebastian Moore’s point, the person who awakens love in us, merely throws aside the veil, and we unearth the fountain of love from which we were created by God.

If we do not seek God within us, the love that is available in God stays distant, stays apart from us, it cannot change us in the same way when we keep it at arms distance. We must know it within ourselves if we are to survive the trials of human love.


Encouragement for sufferers of Unhappy Love

To close, let me speak to those whose heart is breaking right now, from unhappy love.
Let me say to you: this is normal. This is not nice, but this is normal. This is what human love is like. And even when you are in a relationship that is more happy than unhappy, there are still moments when the people we love let us down.

I have a close friend who is married, I am not. We have journeyed together through the unhappy love of our different circumstances and what we have discovered is that our pathways are the same: the way forward, towards happiness, is only through the discovery and determined depenence upon the love that is within ourselves. The love we seek, the love we all seek, is already inside you. It has been inside you since birth. The one who has awakened love in you is but a beautiful mirror, reflecting the Divine Love of Creation in your very Being. Set your heart on the higher goal, search for the source of all love, and you find what you so desperately seek in a mere mortal.

Let me also speak to those whose struggle is not so much lost love but betrayed love, the same is true. Seek the higher love, and you will find the source of forgiveness, grace, and justice, that will get you through. Mere human love does not have the capacity to love one’s enemies. You will need divine love for that. But that divine love is written into your inmost Being – Jesus can show you how to find it.

Finally, let me speak to those of you who are on the other side; who have been the cause of unhappiness in Love. Let me say to you, Falling in love is not wrong, it is not even stupid! But it is not always healthy, and it is not always right to pursue it in an outward relationship. Don’t fall for the lie that passion is all there is. There is a higher love, and that love calls us to a higher law. This higher Love is not a disciplinarian, but will reward you richly for choosing to invest in it. Jesus said even he who looks upon another woman lustfully is guilty of adultery! How on earth can we survive that kind of temptation? Self-discipline definitely has it’s place, but you will never chain up your mind entirely. So, you need a greater love. You need a superhuman love! And you need to know that love has forgiven you at your most undeserving.

So, start a journal, sign up for counselling, go on a silent retreat, take an art class, walk in the rain, buy a pet: but turn inwards, and let go of the person you think will make you happy. God has already given you what you think you want, look for it within yourself.

Sharing these kinds of thoughts with a friend recently, she put me on to this beautiful hymn which I’d never heard.

Geoff Mattheson, O Love that will not let me go.

1.   O Love that wilt not let me go,  
I rest my weary soul in thee;  
I give thee back the life I owe,
  That in thine ocean depths its flow,  
May richer, fuller be.
2.   O light that foll’west all my way,  
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
  My heart restores its borrowed ray,
  That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day, 
 May brighter, fairer be.
3.   O Joy that seekest me through pain,  
I cannot close my heart to thee;
  I trace the rainbow through the rain,  
And feel the promise is not vain,
  That morn shall tearless be.
4.   O Cross that liftest up my head,
  I dare not ask to fly from thee;
  I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
  And from the ground there blossoms red, 
 Life that shall endless be.

Holy Week: Being the Bride


Lamentations pops up in the Lectionary readings for Morning and Evening Prayer this week.  It must have been at least a decade, if not two, since I’ve read Lamentations, and it’s only a few pages long, so I read through the whole book:  it was not at all as I remembered it!  I had no memory of Lamentations being such beautiful Hebrew poetry; full of sorrow and regret.  More than that however, I was surprised by the amount of feminine imagery.  Jerusalem is a widow, whose former lovers do not come to her aid.  She is a virgin daughter who has been defiled.  There are also shocking and terrible descriptions of the devastation on Jerusalem referencing the treatment of women and children of the city: they are raped and are wholly without protection.  Loving mothers cannibalise their children!

The benefit of metaphors, and the reason why they are so dominant in theology and spirituality, is that the are not static.  One picture morphs into another and then another, seamlessly creating a single montage.  The metaphor of widow, lover and virgin daughter are not literally coherent in Lamentations, but all together the poetic impression is strong and clear.  Jerusalem is vulnerable, abandoned, once loved but now unloved.

Together with the Liturgy of the Bridegroom (see yesterday’s post) this got me thinking about the feminine as an archetypal metaphor for God’s people.  I cannot think of a case in the Scriptures in which the marriage or lover analogy is evoked, where God is the woman and God’s people the man.  The Church is feminine and the metaphor is steadfastly unegalitarian.  The feminine refers to vulnerability and receptivity.

Human insights regarding the social construction of gender and intimate relationships must necessarily complicate our hearing of feminine imagery and the marriage metaphor for the Church.  The Bible was written in very different times to our own; which means we must retain great care not to misapply feminine imagery in our contemporary age.  I’ve been watching The Tudors TV series of late, and last night I watched the beheading of Anne Boleyn: the experience of marriage is very different to contemporary Western culture indeed!  I was particularly challenged at the submission of Henry’s wives to his Lordship, even unto their death.  Henry is always their King as much as their Husband.  As appalling as this is for me to contemplate in a human relationship, it does make sense to me in my relationship with God and in fact makes the Bride:Bridegroom metaphor work much better.  We submit to our Lord God’s Love because, as husband, He has power to act on our behalf or abandon us to life without Love and protection.  In worldly terms, divorce is still more often, more devastating for women than it is for men in Western societies where the laws have made concerted efforts at egalitarianism; and of course there are many places in the world where divorced women have no rights at all.

As Bride, I submit to my Bridegroom’s Love, utterly dependent on His goodness and faithfulness.  Any contemporary Western woman knows that this is not a passive exercise, but takes great courage and determination to choose to trust in Love.  Unsurprisingly, the Liturgy of the Bridegroom directs us towards the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume (Matthew 26:6-13): an act of devoted abandonment from one who understood her Lover was about to die.  It reminds me of words from Gillian Rose, ‘”in personal life, people have absolute power over one another…, one party may initiate a unilateral and fundamental change in the terms of relating without renegotiating them, and further, refusing even to acknowledge the change.”  The call to relationship with God is the call to open oneself up to Love by One Who Is Trustworthy beyond any fickle man.

For Eastern Orthodox Christians (and many besides) the Mother of God epitomises the openness to God required by every disciple.  As Mary welcomes God into her womb, we welcome God.  We welcome Love into our inmost Being and we grow Love into Life with every resource of our Bodies.   Not a passive abandonment but a visceral, embodied response driven by maternal instinct.  Mary as Mother is our inspiration and our guide: the archetypal Lover of God. There is a distinct direction to the affection – a drawing inwards; a welcoming of that which is beyond ourselves to sink deeply into our Being.  Vulnerability and receptivity.

Practically speaking, this is why contemplative spirituality makes so much sense for me, though I dislike extending the metaphor of the feminine to describe contemplation as a feminine exercise.

What doesn’t make sense to me is why the church as it exists in reality (as opposed to theology) is so dominated by masculine modes of being.  We push outwards with our evangelism, ‘winning others for christ;’ making ‘strategic growth’ plans for our parishes, insist on hierarchy, bureaucracy, institutionalism and unquestionally accept impersonal relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  The conception of ‘ministry’ has been masculine for the bulk of the church’s history and the reception of non-masculine priests continues to be a struggle for much of the institutional church.  In other words, the church in practice looks more like the powerful Husband/Lord than the vulnerable Bride.  I feel powerless to respond to this observation in any other way than prayer.  I can take responsibility for my own turn inwards towards God, but I cannot affect anyone else’s.  All I can do is open myself up to Christ’ Passion, one day at a time, and let God do the rest.