Marked by Ashes

Bruegemann

by Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People. (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008):27-28.

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day…
This day—a gift from you.
This day—like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
     halfway back to committees and memos,
     halfway back to calls and appointments,
     halfway on to next Sunday,
     halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
     half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
   but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes—
     we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
       of failed hope and broken promises,
       of forgotten children and frightened women,
     we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
     we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
   some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
   anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you—
   you Easter parade of newness.
   Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
     Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
     Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
   Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
     mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

Best of any song

birdsongBird song is our loud alarm clock these spring days.

Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.

— Wendell Berry. “1997.I” in A timbered choir: the Sabbath poems 1979-1997. New York, Counterpoint, 1992, p. 207. Picture from from cover of Birdsong: a natural history, by Don Stap. Oxford, 2006

“For, lo, the winter is past … The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come … ” Song of Solomon 3.11-12.

Advent: we’re not used to waiting

Dr Rowan Williams’s Reflections on Advent are superb. Some extracts are below, but do read it all or view the video.

We’re not a culture that’s very used to waiting.

During Advent, Christians go back to that time of waiting as the Bible shows it to us. They read again the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament. They read about how people were longing for an end to slavery, longing to be back home in some sense, longing to be at home with God again, longing for reconciliation. And all of that is expressed in the most powerful metaphors, especially in the prophesies of Isaiah, metaphors about the desert blossoming, metaphors about the rain falling, metaphors about day dawning after there’s been a long, long night.

So during this four weeks before Christmas, that’s what Christians are reflecting on. When Jesus comes into the life of the world with something unplanned, overwhelming, something that makes a colossal difference, we long for it and yet we don’t quite know what it’s going to involve. … know some of the difference he’s made to our lives as individuals, to the life of the Christian community, the Church, to the whole world. And yet there’s more. We’re still waiting to see what might happen if Jesus was allowed into our lives that bit more fully; that bit more radically.

. . . Advent is a time when [Christians] do a bit of self-examination. Have I allowed Jesus in yet? Has the good news really made the full impact it might make, or is my life still locked into old patterns, into darkness, into slavery, into being not at home with myself or God or with other people? It’s a time of self-examination, of repentance indeed, facing myself honestly and saying sorry for the things that don’t easily face the light. And it’s a time of expectation and a time of hope. A time, therefore, also of quiet.

It’s been said so often it hardly needs saying again, but it is rather a pity that for a few weeks before Christmas we are saturated with Christmas carols. We don’t have quite the sort of quiet we need to think, ‘Well what would it be if Jesus really came as if for the first time into my life? What would it be for the good news really to change me.’ Because for that to happen I need some reflective time; I need some peace; I need to slow down; I need, you might say, to take my time about things.

… It may be deeply painful as well as deeply joyful. Death and judgment, and hell and heaven. It will be that experience of confronting the truth in such a way that you’re changed for good. We say yes to all of that even with the pain and the risk. Or God forbid we say no we can’t cope with the truth, we’d prefer our own darkness. And so part of our self-examination during Advent is looking into ourselves and saying, ‘Well can I get myself to the point where I can look at God and say well there’s truth and there’s beauty and light and love and it’s painful for me, weak and stupid though I am, to face that, and yet I’d rather be there with the truth, however much it costs, than be locked up with myself?’

During Advent, we try to get ourselves a bit more used to the truth—the truth about ourselves, which is not always very encouraging, but the truth about God above all which is always encouraging. The One who comes will come with a great challenge. It will be like fire on the earth as the Bible says. And yet the One who comes is coming in love. He’s coming to set us free. And that’s something well worth waiting for.

The God who suffers

The recent (2013) typhoon in the Philippines, the tsunami disaster of 26 December 2004 and other similar catastrophic events provoke questions about “Why does God permit such suffering?” or “How can God exist, in the face of such evil?”

I am not sure that the early deaths of a lot of people in a flood of seawater or a terrible storm are more or less evil that that of thousands of AIDS sufferers in Africa or just one person in a city road accident. But the suffering of those left to grieve demands a response.

(Read more . . .)

We don’t have a helpful or even reasonable answer to the “why?” of suffering. But God offers solidarity with the sufferer and the oppressed. In the cross of Jesus Christ, God shares in our pain and suffering. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has achieved liberation and new creation.
Where was God when the tsumani struck? With the dead, the injured and the heartbroken.