Saturday, May 25, 2013

Where Is God?

For over six months now, I have been actively looking for a new posting. My current post, in Liverpool Diocese, comes to an end (at least on paper) next month. Today I received the latest in a growing pile of correspondence informing me that I had not been offered a post I had applied for. This in itself is alright – my prayer is not, ‘Let me get this job’ but, ‘Your will be done’ – but there is only so many times you can stomach being told that you will be outstanding...somewhere else.

We had hoped that we would know by now. Indeed, originally we had hoped that we would have been able to move next week. For several good reasons, that was our preferred timing. We’re not living in a war zone, or with cancer, but we have been living – and continue to live – with a protracted season of uncertainty: and while we can’t put life on hold, neither are we able to make firm plans. This takes its toll, in many ways, some bigger than others.

The situation we find ourselves in is further complicated by the various expectations of others, most of which, however well-meant, are fairly unhelpful.

Where is God in all this? And how might Trinity Sunday resource our continued watching and waiting?

God is where God has always been: seated on the throne in heaven. As Christians have needed to be reminded ever since the letters that form the New Testament were written, things look very different from a heavenly perspective. Our circumstances are precarious, even when they look secure; but God is at work to bring about his good will, not by coercion or inevitability but by the world-overthrowing power of love.

Christians believe that there is one God, and that this one God exists in the form of a community. As we also believe that we are made in the likeness of this God, that invites us to understand ourselves as persons – existing in indivisible relationship to others – and not, as is prevalent in western culture, as individuals – a sub-human form of life. But the Trinity is a mystery: that is to say, though it can be known, through revelation, it cannot be exhausted by our understanding. Unlike every good gift in creation, it is an infinite resource given us. And at present, I am reflecting on Rublev’s icon as a window into that greater reality.

According to Rublev’s symbolism, the Spirit reaches out to us, drawing us deeper into a life of prayer; from which vantage-point we see a greater revelation of the Son as our peace and as our pilgrim’s shelter on the way to the Father; who, in turn, we experience as the one in whom we find our permanent home. We meet the Spirit in the wilderness at the very edge of the Promised Land; the Son beneath the tree where Abraham camped as one who held the Promise in potential, or the tree where Deborah sat to exercise God’s wise judgements within the Land, or the tree in Micah’s great vision (Micah 4:1-8, which combines mountain and tree and house with watchtower); and the Father as fulfilment of his Promise.

When we are reminded that our home is the Father’s house – that we are a child of God – and that Christ is our peace and that the Spirit draws us into this deeper reality through the unpromising foothills of circumstance [the children enter Narnia because of the Blitz] those circumstances are restored to their rightful perspective: not as trivial (to be dismissed), but as boastful (and passing); not as an illusion (to be denied), but as a place of grace (where death fails to keep its grasp on life).

And so we persevere, allowing the Trinity to come to us, welcoming travellers only to discover that it is they who welcome us in...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Trinity Sunday : Part 1

Last Sunday was Pentecost. Perhaps because last year I incorporated a full-size skeleton and a medical dummy torso (in order to help us engage with Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones restored to life by the Spirit of God), I wasn’t let anywhere near a Pentecost service this year. But I am orchestrating Trinity, this coming Sunday.

My intention is to set up a live tableau version of Rublev’s most famous icon, which depicts Abraham’s three angelic visitors and represents God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit extending the invitation to the person gazing on – or rather, through – the icon. The 'movement' of the icon is from Father to Son to Spirit to onlooker drawn in back through the Spirit to the Son and so to the Father.

On the table is a dish of roast lamb, a shared meal and a symbol of the Lamb who was slain. But I’m thinking of adding other things, first: a board game (I think God likes to have fun); the Sunday newspapers (I think God is interested in what is going on in the world); a TV remote (I think God likes a good story)...

I’ve prepared three 450mm x 640mm panels to be held up behind the tableau, depicting the background (as well as my take on the full icon, on a panel twice as large, as prompt for the story we will tell...).

The Holy Spirit (dressed in blue and green, symbolising life in sea, sky and on land) is associated with a mountain in the wilderness, for the Spirit teaches us to pray. This is an appropriate prompt for prayer.

The Son (in a brown robe symbolising earth and blue cloak symbolising heaven – for the two are united in him – with a gold sash for authority) is associated with a tree, the Tree of Life (the tree of execution transformed into the Tree of Life), symbol of peace. This is an appropriate prompt for asking ourselves whether we know peace – with God, with ourselves, with others, in our circumstances – and to pray for those known to us who do not experience peace.

The Father (in shimmering ethereal robes, for no one has seen the Father) is associated with his house. The door is always open, and on the roof there is an upper room with an open window, from where the Father looks out to see the prodigal returning home. This is an appropriate prompt for asking ourselves whether we know that we are welcome in our Father’s home, and to pray for those known to us who have wandered far from home.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Several friends of mine are in Israel at the moment, visiting various biblical sites. Their photos on Facebook are giving me happy memories of a study trip I made there several years ago. But today I was particularly struck in a fresh way by an image from Sepphoris via my Aussie friend Malcolm Potts (who, as it happens, coined the phrase ‘kairos kisses’).

Sepphoris was a Roman city built in Galilee during Jesus’ lifetime. Thanks to King James’ Authorised Version of the Bible, we have inherited a cultural image of Jesus as a carpenter from Nazareth; but a more accurate translation of ‘tekton’ would be builder. As Sepphoris was a major building project within easy walking distance of Nazareth, we can be almost certain that Joseph and his apprentice would have found work there.

I’ve often found understanding Jesus to have been a builder by trade to be a rich resource. It teases the account of four friends who tear up the flat roof of the house Jesus lived in for a while at Capernaum, in order to lower their paralytic friend down into Jesus’ presence: having forgiven the man’s sins and restored him to health, did Jesus forgive the friends’ trespass, re-constructing the roof? It illuminates his stated intention, on the night he was betrayed, to go to build an extension on his father’s house for his bride – the Church – and then return for us. It adds something to Peter’s metaphor of the Church as living stones being built into a temple. It resonates with the expansion of the local church through the ‘oikos,’ or extended family home.

But though I knew that, in all probability, Jesus had worked on the building of Sepphoris, it had never struck me before that he might have laid some of its famous mosaics. After all, the mosaic was a Roman decoration. But today, this struck me as being deeply significant:

Jesus was a builder, who took the broken little pieces – perhaps even broke some larger pieces himself – and brought them together, side-by-side, to create beautiful pictures...

And after all, isn’t that what he still does today? Isn’t that how he reveals the beauty of his bride?

Monday, May 13, 2013


We are currently in the mini-season of Ascension-tide (or a sub-season within Easter, from Jesus’ ascension forty days after his resurrection until his sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost ten days later). The following are three apparently unconnected observations that have struck me over the past few days:

[1] Reveal/Conceal

Ascension Day. The heavens and the earth simultaneously reveal and conceal the glory of God in Christ Jesus, defying our insistence to delineate, to divide-and-conquer...

This is a mystery, which cannot be explained but only lived: a way of being that recognises that our world is made of the heavens and the earth, bound together in the person of Jesus; a way of living that acknowledges the limit to our understanding, and of our role – not just that there is, at present, a limit, but that there will always be a limit; a way of living that acknowledges the voice within that tells us that (we see enough to recognise that) there is more to life than we can see, and with both joy (in response to revelation) and humility (in response to concealment) comes alongside others who sense the same.

[2] A table, spread

“You prepare a table for me in the presence of those who trouble me.” Psalm 23:5a

We are invited to participate in a meal. But we are not invited alone: those who trouble us – those whom we would describe as our enemies, even – are also invited to the same table; and we are invited, and challenged, to sit in one another’s presence. At this table, neither ‘us’ nor ‘them’ is the host; we are all the guests of honour. And as we learn to listen to one another and to recognise one another as honoured guests at the table, so healing oil is poured over us and rubbed into wounds, some of which they have inflicted on us, some of which we have inflicted on them, and some of which are self-inflicted. This happens as our wounded-ness is first gently exposed – and that is only possible in the company of those who trouble us: whose values and answers to life differ from our own, calling into question our unknown assumptions. This does not happen when we sit at table only with those who do not trouble us, because they are like us; for in such company the wounds we need healed remain hidden.

[3] Perspective

If we view and present people primarily in terms of the categories ‘economic resource,’ ‘economic threat,’ or ‘economic drain,’ then we must also view and present the Slave Trade, the Holocaust and the Killing Fields as virtue we have lost...

When we stop and think about it, this might not be the kind of society we want to nurture.

How might Ascension-tide help to resource an alternative way of viewing and presenting people? As those for whom Jesus intercedes at the right hand of the Father? As those who might be caught up into the heavens with him – hidden in Christ, the One who has accomplished his work and handed on his mission; the King of a kingdom in which there is no meritocracy, where the first shall be last and the last first, and yet where it costs every citizen everything they have; the Ancient of Days and Wounded One?

If there is a common theme among these three thoughts, it is this: that Ascension-tide opens us to the limits of our fear-bound categories; and in so doing prepares us for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, young and old, male and female, Jew and gentile – to diversity expressed in the unity of love.