I recently filled in an application form which had a box for ‘religious affiliation’. I was tempted to write: “It’s complicated!” I am Christian, a missionary disciple of Jesus. But which branch of the Christian family do I call home? The best way, really, to describe myself is as a practicing ecumenical Christian.
St Paul, annoyed with the divisions between Christians in the church in ancient Corinth, reminded them that “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [with their perceived distinctive ‘brands’] or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). That pretty much sums up my own experience. As a member of the Christian household, I am blessed by a superabundance of expressions of faith in God through Christ Jesus, so many gifts of a loving God to God’s people. Christ is not divided, the Lord our God is one God, so why should I have to choose to be ‘in’ one camp and ‘out’ the other?
My move from South Africa to Ireland has given me the opportunity to learn so much from Catholicism, and for my word-based spirituality to be filled out with the richness of images and rituals. All the gifts of the Christian world, in whatever form, from whatever tradition, are God’s gifts to God’s people, and I accept them with gratitude. To paraphrase St Paul, all those who proclaim the Gospel of Jesus are God’s servants, working together, and we are all God’s field, God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:9). What a wonderful building, what a beautiful, fruitful field!
What am I going to say ‘no’ to today in order to create the space to live intentionally, to get done what really matters, and to be open to the gifts that the day has to offer?
God of the generations,
when we set our hands to labor,
thinking we work alone,
remind us that we carry
on our lips
the words of prophets,
in our veins
the blood of martyrs,
in our eyes
the mystics’ visions,
in our hands
the strength of thousands.
This prayer by Jan Richardson is from In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season.
if this be not your will, frustrate it:
Frustrate it fully and frustrate it quickly,
And move our heart’s desire
closer to the heart of your desire for us.
But if it be of your will,
Then continue to open for us
the generosity of heart, mind, and means
that are needed,
And may this generosity begin with us.
This prayer comes from The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Prayerbook for Catholic Christians by Eamon Duffy. What a powerful prayer to pray at the beginning and discerning stage of any project! It is so hard sometimes to know when to keep pushing that door, and when to look instead for the other door which may be opening.
The letter of James in the New Testament reassures us that “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you (James 1:5). If we are attentive, and open, willing to listen, we will be guided. James goes on to warn us to ‘ask in faith, never doubting” (James 1:6). Faith for James isn’t the power of positive thinking, but faithful action. When we have the courage to step out and act upon the wisdom given, not constantly second guess ourselves and the divine leading, when we commit ourselves, our time, our resources to where we sense God at work, we will meet with the incredible generosity of God.
I’m starting to read Jerome Berryman’s latest book, The Spiritual Guidance of Children (Morehouse Publishing 2013). While I was waiting for it to become available here, I’d do searches for it using its subtitle – Montessori, Godly Play and the Future. Crazy as it may sound, I only really noticed its title when I read the opening words of the preface:
“This book reframes ‘Christian education’ for children as spiritual guidance. It explores how best to transfer the whole Christian language system, which implies a way of life and spiritual development, from one generation to another.”
What does that reframing entail? No doubt I’ll discover more as I read the book. But right away my spirit responded with a delighted ‘yes!’ to that phrase. Spiritual guidance for children – we cannot operate within that paradigm unless we accept that they are already on the journey, their unique journey with God. On the other hand, we cannot think in terms of guidance unless we truly believe that we have something of value to offer them from the Christian tradition.
‘Spiritual guidance’ sounds like an attentive, respectful practice, one which cannot be done with a heavy hand but which is nonetheless intentional. From what I have already experienced of Godly Play, the method developed by Jerome Berryman, I know it will be both playful and profound. It sounds like something I want to be a part of, something the various generations do together. To quote from the preface again:
“This kind of guidance follows Jesus’ counsel that in order to be spiritually mature, we need to become like children and to become like children we need to welcome them, which in turn reveals him and the one who sent him. The language of the Christian people flows out of Jesus’ life and words, so it makes sense that this language can be used to guide us back to our source as well as toward our ending.”
The seven gods who rule the world were born when God laughed. …After he had burst out laughing, light appeared. …He burst out laughing a second time: the waters were everywhere. At the third burst of laughter, Hermes appeared; at the fourth, [generation]; at the fifth, destiny; at the sixth, time. Then, before the seventh laugh, God had a tremendous inspiration, but he laughed so hard that he cried, and from his tears the human soul was born.
This is a translation of an Egyptian myth, which I found here, by Stephen Nichols in the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory. (I’ve changed ‘creation’ to ‘generation’ as the translation of the French “la génération” that he footnotes as his source, because I think ‘generativeness’ is at the heart here, not the static ‘stuff’ of creation.)
Hermes is the god of shepherds, land travel, merchants, weights and measures, oratory, literature, athletics and thieves, and known for his cunning and shrewdness. Most importantly, he is the messenger of the gods. (lifted from here). I like the way Wikipedia puts it: “Hermes is a god of transitions and boundaries.” He stands at the boundaries, not so much to enforce them as to transverse them. He’s the go-between. The boundaries are where play happens, where ‘is’ and ‘as if’ meet, where the sacred touches the ordinary.
I wonder what it felt like to live with this as one’s story of origins, as the story that tells its tellers who they are and what kind of world they find themselves in. If the world is born in laughter, then there is something playfully subversive about it. It doesn’t pay to be too solemn. When confronted with chaos, we laugh. Not the laugh of derision or cynicism, nor the laughter of madness, but a playful laugh. We play, and watch with delight as something new emerges. I love that human beings are an idea of God so ridiculously wonderful that God cries with laughter. We are the result of tears, but not of despair. It reminds me of the words of a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter: “I can cry until I laugh or laugh until I cry. So cut the deck right in half, I’ll play from either side.”
It is interesting to compare this to what we find in Genesis 1. There we also have the number 7, and God creating by expelling breath, but there is it a word, not a laugh. There’s also the creation of water, the setting of the boundaries, the marking of time (through the luminaries set in the firmament on the fourth day), the generativity bestowed on earth, plants and animals (let the earth bring forth …. With their seed in them …. Be fruitful and multiply ….) It is much more solemn, though. In Genesis 1 God knows what God is doing, and step by step executes the plan to make order out of chaos and to fill the void with life. In the Egyptian myth the creative process seems much more like we as human being might experience it. Out of delight, something new emerges. The Egyptian myth gives us another model of creativity, one that puts play and discovery and wonder at the heart of the process. It is like reading Genesis 1 through the lens of Proverbs 8, and identifying with Wisdom rather than God (which makes sense, since we are creatures before we are creators.) In Proverbs 8, Wisdom plays at God’s side and in the world, delighting in creation and in human beings. The bridge between the divine and the human realm is Wisdom at play.