St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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A New Dawn

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 A new Dawn?
 
I like to think that I have the record of the most ill-informed statement regarding the Bible, that I have ever heard. Years ago, a darling old lady said to me, during a crisis, “Well, Father, as Nostradamus prophesies in the Bible”. I doubt whether I will ever have the privilege of hearing such spectacular rubbish every again, but it summarized the sort of silliness that all too easily prevails when humanity desperately seeks answers to a situation it can no longer control.
 
So much has been said about the present pandemic that I hesitate to add my penny’s worth, but herewith the longer text of my address to my beloved congregation, this past Sunday (Mothering Sunday as it was), at St Michael and All Angels, Observatory.
 
We do like a challenge, don’t we? Humanity thrives on times of challenge. Out comes all the old “weaponry”, and before you know it, our bombs are bigger and more lethal, our buildings are higher than our competitors, our lies are more outrageous and our bullying more obnoxious. But the point is we “win”, again, are comfortably back in control, and it’s business as usual.
 
And then, comes a situation which none of the old arsenal can “fix”.  The outward growth, the one we devote most of our time here on earth to, is suddenly, stumped. And this virus, without fail, is all three stumps- clean out of the ground. And, the only path left is the INWARD or spiritual path, and we generally have no idea how to go about this process.
 
This is foreign territory to a planet where “much” and “often” and “now”, are the building blocks of the privileged, and because the spiritual life cannot operate in clutter, the decks simply MUST be cleared of all that hinders its growth. Suddenly, our living must undo, probably most of what has to date, defined us and informed us. What we have held “sacred”. A new sanctity must dawn, and THAT requires a life that is increasingly centred on very little. Only a few things will begin to matter. When we do this, our myopic life lens is shattered, and the broader lens of reality soon reveals that there are others on the same trajectory. Surprise!  This viral outbreak has caused many, many, many to think this way, perhaps for the first time in their lives. There’s a sense that we’re all in this together - every race, religion, young, old, male, female, rich, poor. Perhaps like no other time since the World Wars.
 
I am as much part of this crisis as the next. Suffering has an ability to pull you into oneness.  Richard Rohr speaks of the incident of the Transfiguration as profoundly mirroring the path of spiritual growth. I like that very much.
It is a beautiful picture of the disciples being led along the path of their own spiritual maturing - their own increasing centring. A space where Our Lord’s own Transfiguration experience in fact, mirrors what lies ahead for them. At the time, I like to think, they probably thought they were “well on the road” to mastering this “discipleship business”. Afterall, here they were with Him, part of the “in crowd”.
 
The reality was, that great suffering lay ahead for their “hero” and indeed for them, and Jesus is in fact saying, “There’s a Cross coming, it is going to come! Prepare for this. It’s the last thing you are expecting, but it is probably the one single thing, the only thing that will transfigure you.”  One can almost imagine Jesus thinking to himself, “I have the same terror as you, for soon I too will ask the Father to remove this cup. Nevertheless, His will and not mine.”
 
On this journey, the path of life, the human soul is simply incapable of finding God neutrally. We’re either far too busy or far too materialistic or far too indifferent, for the Centering process to occur “naturally”.  The only two major paths by which the human soul comes to God are: the path of GREAT love (Jesus, Mother Theresa and others have set this truth out), and the path of GREAT suffering. Both finally come down to great suffering - you cannot love anything greatly from a distance. Love extravagantly and your heart will be wrung.  Love like that and you will eventually suffer for it, my children have taught me that.  Youth and material wealth inevitably hide this from us.  Yes, there is ongoing suffering, and pandemics do happen all the time but all too often we are privileged to be spared the effects.  They happen to “others” and inevitably these “others” are safely tucked away  with an ocean between us, and is it not true,  that we are even, at times, guilty of immature thinking which suggests that perhaps they “deserve it” because of their own inability etc?
 
The disciples’ initial response to the transfigured Christ is fear.  Very much mirroring where many of us are today in this time of global crisis. As mentioned, the disciples mirror the path of the spiritual journey: we start out with many concerns, fears and worries, our minds and hearts all over the place.  But as happened on that mountain top Jesus comes, touches us, and says “Get up and do not be afraid.”  On the mountain top when the three disciples raise their eyes, they see nothing but one image: Jesus.  Their lives have become fully focussed and simplified on the one thing that is good, the one thing they desire and the one thing that is necessary. The rest is beyond irrelevant.  Now is as good a time as ever, for us to allow the same Jesus to lead us to the same focal point.  
 
What a moment of grace and encouragement!
 
But then of course the disciples are led by Jesus back into the ordinary world.  Gone is the Cecil B DeMille spectacle, and it’s back to the real world. The world where they must live and laugh and cry, and, more pertinently, continue with the lesson they have learned. Continue his labour of love, healing and Incarnational non-violent witness against all that is contrary to Kingdom values.
 
We simply cannot stay on the mountaintop with its “lovely view” forever.
 
Jesus ends this extraordinary day with the last words I would’ve expected. He expressly forbids the three thoroughly bewildered disciples, to share their astonishing morning, with ANYONE. Great wisdom, actually. Typical God. This is meant to be a transfiguring experience, a conversion to a deeper level of journeying towards God.  Else, just like that, it will simply become another “sensational” tale, told by “another”, and the secular world will soon tire of it and move on to the next sensation. “ 
“Don’t assume others will be transfigured by you relating this story to them”, Jesus seems to be saying. It has to be their personal experience if transformation, religious “conversion “, spiritual maturing, is to take place.  God has to be experienced first-hand, and He just simply is not “on the world’s agenda”. 
Sooner or later, we must go to our own mountaintop. We must have our own transfiguration, and then must walk down the mountaintop into the ordinary world, on the path of suffering and the path of love. It’s the same path. There is no other way.
 
Good Friday proclaims that profoundly for at the foot of the Cross the ground is level.
 
As we, the Parish of St Michael and All Angels experience this crisis, I pray, as your Priest,  that we will be there for each other, that we will journey afresh with our faith, and that we, as a community will be drawn to the “centre of it ALL’, the Cross, and bring Jesus’ teaching, He who is the Author and Finisher of our faith, to life. 
 
You will be in my prayers every day. I will say Mass for you every day and may the God of our Lord Jesus keep you safe.
 
Pax et Bonum, Grace and Peace
 Fr Timothy
 
 
 
 

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