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Rhythms of loss

The song that I invite you to focus on today is actually a third of the very short book attributed to Habakkuk, a much lesser prophet to the people of Jerusalem then Jeremiah, who was also active at about the same time.

His rather unattractive name (my boys always get the giggles), in Hebrew, may actually come from the word for “hug” or “hang on tightly” and, in this final song of the Old Testament, that’s exactly what he does – he hangs on to his faith in God.

This particular song is a prayer – written for the director of music to be played on stringed instruments on “shigionoth” – by wandering, by improvising. As you read the words for the very first time, as those musicians did, try to imagine the mood and volume of the music that would accompany it.  

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
His splendour was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.

Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.

I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.
Were you angry with the rivers, Lord?
Was your wrath against the streams?
Did you rage against the sea
when you rode your horses
and your chariots to victory?

You uncovered your bow,
you called for many arrows.
You split the earth with rivers;
the mountains saw you and writhed.
Torrents of water swept by;
the deep roared
and lifted its waves on high.

Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
at the glint of your flying arrows,
at the lightning of your flashing spear.
In wrath you strode through the earth
and in anger you threshed the nations.
You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.

You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot.
With his own spear you pierced his head
when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,
gloating as though about to devour
the wretched who were in hiding.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
churning the great waters.

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

Habakkuk 3, NIV

Reflect for a moment:

  • How does this song compare to the songs you like to sing?
  • Why do you think it is significant enough to appear in Scripture?
  • Do you find anything about the song challenging or confronting?
  • What is the mood? And does it shift as the song progresses?

Before writing this powerful and, again, rather confronting song that declares Habakkuk’s unshakeable faith in a majestic and forceful God no matter what may befall him, this very minor prophet had been questioning God relentlessly regarding the corruption and lawlessness of Israel’s society, the increasing prosperity of the rich, and the anguished suffering of the poor.

How long must I call to you for help without you listening?

With so much evil going on in the world, with no able to do something to stop it, why don’t you get involved? 

When will you intervene to punish oppression and expose idolatry? 

Why are you delaying your promised kingdom? 

I don’t know if he liked the answer – those who have built their livelihood through oppression and violence will have their houses plundered; those who have brought about the shame of others will find that it’s their own turn to be disgraced. This was the judgement of God – first, against the Israelites; then, against the Babylonians who would invade, violate, and enslave them for a period of time. 

When we look at the state of the world around us in this season, we too may want to hang onto God with all those questions – questions about justice, the decisions that people make for power and profit, whose lives matter most, about the intrusion of the brokenness of our world into our own personal circumstances through disease and violence and stress and conflict, about the presence or absence of God in the midst of all …

… the loss of dignity…
… the loss of capacity… 
… the loss of company … 
… the loss of significance … 
… the loss of love …
… the loss of life …

I don’t know how easily my own heart would sing that song … “I will wait patiently for the day to come …” though there’s no food, no wine, no oil, no meat “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” 

I don’t want to struggle. 
I don’t want to feel pain.
I don’t want to have my heart broken.
I don’t want to lose someone I love. 
I don’t want to be bullied.
I don’t want to do without. 
I don’t want to worry about where my next meal is coming from. 

But what do we learn about God if we look beyond our own little lives and wants to the violent and escalating rhythm of loss in our world in this season? 

When we hear the anger and the mourning and the desperation and the wondering and the grasping, grasping, grasping for God, for help, for someone to make it stop, for some way to make sense of it all, what do we learn about the universal human need for salvation and a kingdom of perfect peace and justice for all? 

And how does that move us, shape us, challenge us, change us? 

May we grasp on to that this week. 

And may God’s passion and purpose for this world take hold of us so that loss can meet love – again and again and again and again and again – through us.

Rhythms of grace: seasons of suffering

The invitation to prayer this week is taken from Tess Ward’s book “The Celtic Wheel of the Year,” combined with images for silent contemplation and a song. Enter the quiet and may the Spirit of God speak to you in this season. 

Praise to you O Divine Love,
for though you never ordain suffering,
you help us to make sense of love’s purpose when hardship befalls.
Reveal the meaning of this time that you have gifted to us.
Help us so to trust you in every season, we may say:
Praise to you.

Beirut blast …
Air India crash …
COVID-19 deaths … burial of unclaimed bodies …
USA protests …
Solid Black Wallpapers - Top Free Solid Black Backgrounds ...
Whatever loss or struggle you have gone/are going through …

Be still in the silence and aware of the Love with and within …

<A candle is lit if you have one at hand>

Loving God,
you have loved us through every season,
from the time of our birth, until our time to die.
Walk with us in our season this day, for you know there is
a time for wounding and a time to heal,
a time to mourn and a time to celebrate,
a time to be creative and a time to survive,
a time to surrender and a time to rebel,
a time to embrace and a time to be self-contained,
a time to speak and a time to keep silence,
a time to be there and a time to stay away,
a time to take charge and a time to let be,
a time to reach beyond and a time to consolidate,
a time to be moderate and a time to be outrageous,
a time to be anxious and a time to be at peace,
a time to stay and a time to move on,
a time to care and a time to be cared for,
a time to generate and a time to lose,
a time to love and time to let go. 
Bear us through this time, you who bear our pain and longing.
Let us hear your voice whispering,
“All is sacred. It is your time.”

Rhythms of reflection

God of each new day
and all the days that have gone before us –
all the way back to the beginning – 
and all the days that have yet to unfold –
all the way into the eternal embrace of Your Love –

we thank you for the rhythm that You bring to life,
for guiding light, 
for expansive love, 
for Your sustaining grace.

We confess, this day, 
just how often we lose sight of You 
in all the spaces and the changes …

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We confess, this day, 
those parts of our lives that have become dull and shaded 
by an absence of love or light …

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We confess, this day, 
our tendency to walk out of step with Your Spirit and truth,  
favouring too much either rest or work …

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Give us, this day,
the grace to recognise and experience the Love
that embraces and shapes and fills 
not only our world – 
but our innermost being – 
as we open our hearts and minds 
to Your living Word
who calls us 
to be hopeful,
to take risks,
to be committed,
to be determined, 
to be generous, 
to dream of what can be 
as we take his lead
and tell a story –
about You and about us – 
that sets us free
to live and breathe and move and have our being
in Jesus’ name. 

Amen.

In silence, reflect: 

  • Where have you felt the presence of God this week?
  • Where have you felt an absence of God this week?
  • What difference does the absence or presence of God make to life?

Rhythms of grace: beginning

If 2020 has offered me one great insight, it’s that we like life to be fairly patterned and predictable. There is an expected order to things – a routine of daily and seasonal rituals that offer comfort and security.

Yet, I wonder, in our fast-paced, consumer-driven, and fairly comfortable lifestyles, how many of those routines help us to connect day by day with the deeper way of living called Christianity or discipleship or kingdom-living?

As we start a new series of conversations around the rhythms of grace which anchor us to God in the midst of daily-changing circumstances, let’s begin here:

In the beginning,
God …

in the beginning,
God created,

God created
the heavens and the earth. 

God said,
“let there be”
and there was.

The ruach of God –
ruach,
ruach
ruach
ruach
ruach
ruach
hovering over the face of the deep
working in concert with the Word 
to bring light and life and shape to the world;

<light a candle if you have one nearby>

to cradle us
in space and time – 

between 

sun and moon 
and day and night 
and light and dark 
and sea and sky 
and land and water 
and ebb and flow 
and life and death 

and love 
love 
Love.

Love of the Father,
Love of the Son,
Love of the Holy Spirit.  

Love said,
“let there be”
and there was.

And, in love, what was good –
together – became very good.

And six days of work
were punctuated by a day a rest
and a rhythm of life was set,
set by God

it was set by God …
in the beginning.

Why not be part of Sunday’s rhythm of online community and conversation at 10a.m. or 5p.m.? For more details, complete the contact form below:

Hospitality

I smiled this morning when I opened up my postbox and pulled out the latest edition of the Ruminations magazine. Winter’s theme: hospitality. 

I had just been thinking about the highlights of the last week being the warm meal and laughter shared at a hearth in Henty and, on Sunday, at the dining room table in my own home which now doubles regularly as an altar for worship. 

Hospitality.

It’s a hard thing to hold on to in the midst of rules around gathering, our wariness of strangers, posters urging social distancing and safe food handling, and practices like Holy Communion and sharing the peace having to be expressed in new ways. 

Yet, all around us, people are struggling with a deep sense of disconnection, an engulfing loneliness, and, even, a growing self-centredness without the gift of community to stretch and challenge and inspire and frustrate us. We can’t wait to “get back to church” because that’s going to magically fix all that? 

I keep coming back to the story of the woman in her kitchen hiding a small piece of leaven within her three measures of flour that it might be transformed to a fluffy, risen loaf that will feed her family and any others who might find themselves that day at her table. The kingdom of God, Jesus said, is like that (see Luke 13:20-21; Leaven). It’s right there – in her home, in her daily routine, in her hope-filled action, in her preparation to meet the need of another, to satisfy a hunger.

Hospitality. 

I wonder if that’s something that we, as the Church, are really good at. Well organised morning cuppa’s after a service – yes. Fellowship groups, social outings, and activities for our members – yes. Many valuable, heartfelt ways of reaching out to those less fortunate – yes. 

But learning people’s names in the supermarket, having conversations with someone from an obviously different background to our own, working towards changed language and rituals and music so that newcomers may feel a little less like they’ve just arrived on a different planet, inviting a church acquaintance into our home so that they can share our technological resources to join in an online service, safely hosting as individuals at our kitchen and dining room tables those that we know to be struggling with loneliness and isolation in this time, meeting up at the lake or the park or the Botanic gardens for a walk with someone who might really just need to get out of their house … these acts of hospitality are radical in that they demand that I need to get intimately involved, hands on, in opening up my own time and space for another.

The closing prayer that I used during our communion service on Sunday reads:

We thank You, O God,
for the nourishment and strength 
we have received at Your table.
We thank You, O Christ,
for the new life that we enjoy
and which we now take into the world.
We thank You, Holy Spirit,
for feeding our souls with this simple meal,
and for equipping us to be Your hands to feed others. 

John van de Laar, A Liturgy for the Spiritual Feast

The sacrificial hospitality that we receive at the open table is the same hospitality that we are called to embody as the people of God. It stretches beyond the sacred hour in a sanctuary on a Sunday to a way of living with others that proclaims: the kingdom of God is here!

Stars

Today marks my 44th birthday and our 3rd year in Australia. There will be no cake or candles; no family birthday dinner; not much time at home even. Which is very unlike how we normally celebrate. 

Instead there will be much meaningful “work” – at my dining room table and, later, at a kitchen table in one of the regional congregations with whom I serve through God’s grace and to God’s glory – as we wrestle through the concerns and challenges and practicalities and opportunities of re-gathering within our various communities in the coming months.

It is a deep joy to be able to spend today in conversation with people who display passion and wisdom and humility and care – for one another and for those to whom they embody the encircling love of God. 

It is a far greater joy to know that we are not in this alone but are, ourselves, encircled in a Love so high and wide and deep and long that it cannot be contained by our often-limited language or thinking or overcome by even the darkest circumstances of our lives. 

Today, I’m getting back to a practice long forgotten: that of picking a “theme song” for the year – something to hold on to, a compass for my course, a bright star in the sky that holds steady through the ups and downs that each new day may bring ….

May you know, this day and always, that the One who holds the stars knows your name. https://www.youtube.com/embed/NtzrLpxM298?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

You spoke a word and life began
Told oceans where to start and where to end
You set in motion time and space
But still You come and You call to me by name
But still You come and You call to me by name

If You can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

The deepest depths, the darkest nights
Can’t separate, can’t keep me from Your sight
I get so lost, forget my way
But still You love and You don’t forget my name

If You can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart

If You can calm the raging sea
You can calm the storm in me
You’re never too far away
You never show up too late
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

Your love has called my name
What do I have to fear?
What do I have to fear?
Your love has called my name
What do I have to fear?
What do I have to fear?

If You can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart (lifting up my heart)

If You can calm the raging sea
You can calm the storm in me
You’re never too far away
You never show up too late
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

You’re the one who holds the stars 

“Stars” by Skillet … from the movie “The Shack”

All

As I continue to reflect on how we all journey together in this “time warp” time towards Christ’s kin-dom, I’d simply like to share today a prayer by Karl Barth from Sunday’s worship.

O Lord our God!
You who know who we are;
men (and women) with good consciences and with bad,
persons who are content and those who are discontent, 
the certain and the uncertain,
Christians by conviction and Christians by convention,
those who believe, those who half-believe, those who disbelieve.

And you know where we have come from:
from the circle of relatives, acquaintances and friends
or from the greatest loneliness,
from a life of quiet prosperity
or from manifold confusion and distress,
from family relationships that are well ordered
or from those disordered or under stress,
from the inner circle of the Christian community 
or from its outer edge.

But now we all stand before you,
in all our differences, 
yet alike in that we are all in the wrong with you and with one another,
that we must all one day die,
that we would all be lost without your grace,
but also in that your grace is promised
and made available to us all in your dear Son Jesus Christ.

We are here together in order to praise you 
through letting you speak to us.
We beseech you to grant that this may take place in this [day],
in the name of your Son, our Lord. 

Karl Barth

Time Warp

One of ways that I love to spend my free time is in a massive multiplayer online role-playing game in which I can create the cutest little characters, explore and build new worlds, complete quests, and get to know people from all sorts of extraordinary (and ordinary) places. 

While on leave over the last week, I’ve been levelling (think growing-up) a brand new character in a tricky class that I have never played before. One of her most powerful skills is called “time warp” which creates a pretty pink circle in which all of my friends move more quickly and all of our enemies slow right down. 

The COVID-19 crisis has been like a massive time warp to me – in which, for some of us, life has slowed right down and, for others, sped up to a pretty unbearable pace; yet, SOMEHOW, we are all supposed to be travelling together towards the kin-dom of God with care, compassion, hope, and understanding. 

I am mindful as I write this morning of those suddenly connected with a Christian community or learning opportunities within the broader Church because technology is being used in a way that eliminates travel, reduces cost, safeguards health, and eases the anxiety of walking into a room full of strangers for the first time.

I am mindful of those who feel lost without their grounding songs and familiar rituals, who – because of age or socioeconomic status or just plain personal preference – have been doing it tough on their own without the regular Sabbath space for spiritual nurture and “family” connection.

I am mindful of friends and colleagues, lay preachers, and church councils who have worn themselves thin trying to keep up with messages of hope and comfort, significant pastoral care concerns, the pain of weddings and funerals that look nothing like what was imagined, and on-the-job training in recording and editing and live-streaming in the midst of an anguished concern for human life and wellbeing and deep wonderings about the unfolding future of Christ’s Church.

I am mindful of those for whom the solitude has been a gift – and of those for whom it has been a burden. Of those pushing to return as fast as possible to what was normal – and of those calling for caution and care. Of those for whom this time is threat – and those who see it as an opportunity. 

Above all, I am mindful that the kin-dom talk which characterises the season of Ordinary Time takes place far outside of our fragmented hours and days or the time warp experience of COVID-19 that may bring us together or pull us further apart: in the eternal and unfolding mystery of the ONE who WAS and IS and IS TO COME. 

Perhaps, at the start of this week, the invitation comes to be less mindful of a life too fast or too slow, and more mindful of the encircling love of God and the company of the saints and to find our rhythm and our rest there.

Blessings to you and yours!

Yvonne

Friday: sustenance

One of the most challenging questions with which I had to wrestle in discerning and testing the call to ordained ministry in South Africa was how I knew that I was called to be a minister of both Word and Sacrament. At eighteen, that seemed an impossible question to answer but it certainly started me on a deep and meaningful journey into what significance the rituals of baptism and holy communion have in our relationship with God, with one another, and with the world around us.

These simple lines in the Basis of Union are some of my favourites:

The Church lives between the time of Christ’s death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things which Christ will bring; 
the Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal;
here the Church does not have a continuing city but seeks one to come.

On the way, Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments,
and it has the gift of the Spirit in order that it may not lose the way.

Uniting Church in Australia, Basis of Union, Paragraph 3

One of the aspects of community life that I have most missed during this time of self-isolation and social distancing is the open table around which we gather – from such different circumstances – as brothers and sisters in Christ to acknowledge our need, to receive the free and lavish grace of God, to honour the invisible bond that connects us beyond time and place with the Church Universal, and to envision our role in making Christ present to the world which he loves. 

All of this in a broken loaf and a shared cup! 

As I share this photo today, I wonder:

  • what are you missing most of your Christian community?
  • what is sustaining you on the way?
  • how have you encountered signs of God’s grace in different ways?

Thursday: can you feel the love?

This is a very unusual pick for a song to share today, but bear with me ….

I first saw Disney’s The Lion King as a very young woman of eighteen who was just starting out on the adventure – and sometimes misadventure – that is love and dating. This movie marked that special moment when I became someone’s girlfriend for the very first time and suddenly had to grapple with what it meant to share myself with another. (I didn’t do it very well, I must admit!)

Many years later, I sat quite contentedly with a child – my child! – nestled in my arms as we saw the story being brought to life on stage. It was pure magic!

Looking at my two young men this morning, there is part of me that wants to turn back time, to make them small again so that I can steal kisses and cuddles whenever I like, to do certain things better and other things exactly the way that we did them before, to slow down and take time to imprint every moment clearly on my memory … in preparation for the growing up and letting go and moving on that is a natural part of many family life cycles. 

So, today, I’m feeling nostalgic and, as restrictions start to relax, there are some who are SO ready for life to “get back to normal” and others who wish that they could just have a few more months free of social obligations and never-finished to-do lists ….

This song speaks truth in a way that still puts a smile on my face: nothing stays the same, the world moves on. Yet, how magical are those moments when all seems to be in harmony and at peace and we are able to lean into them and be our authentic selves. 

In the many moments that are neither harmonious nor peaceful, may we still feel the great love of the Divine enfolding us and holding us right where we are.

Enjoy!