Random thoughts this morning take me to the many reported appearances of Jesus in risen mode in the days immediately following his crucifixion. Jerusalem, Emmaus, Galilee – suddenly manifesting in locked rooms, on open roads and at lake shore barbecues. Sometimes for a few brief minutes, other times for longer conversations.
Now you see him. now you don’t. Apostle Paul speaks of no less than five hundred witness events during these days.
What are we to make of these occurrences? When we listen to them as witness accounts that emerge from re-tellings from within faith communities in various stages of transition, we see more deeply than our habitual newspaper conditioned reading.
Resurrection is an experience, not a laboratory specimen. So let’s get on and live it!
I’ve often wondered how different church history might have been if its universal symbol was a basin and towel rather than a cross.
Today, on the eve of Good Friday, Christians commemorate the Last Supper at which Jesus, having taken a basin and towel, washed his disciples’ feet, saying “By this, all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Symbols are powerful and the first Christians used a variety of them to recognise one another in secret circumstances, often under state oppression. The cross eventually emerged “officially” under the auspices of Emperor Constantine and world history tells of its continuing use, yes, for inspiration, but also for oppression by the powerful.
The events commemorated today suggest followers of Christ will be recognised, not by the cross, but their loving service in the manner of Christ who abandons seemliness to wash the feet of others in service.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.”
Retirement was meant to be easy and simple. Instead, for the last ten months, we have been involved in a battle of wits and wisdom with the powers and principalities of Australia’s labyrinthine financial regulatory system. In seeking redress for a failed retirement “lease for life” scheme, our cohort of some 105 retirees plus their landlords and investors have encountered lies, chicanery, buck-passing, evasion, entrapment, and ducking and weaving while dealing with august institutions charged with consumer protection. When principals (and principles) are not held to account, Australia’s apparent reputation as the seat of the crime capital of the world is well deserved.
Honesty, candor and transparency seem to have little skin in this game.
As our campaign continues, it is instructive to reflect on some of the ancient Christian commemorations of Holy Tuesday that focus on Jesus’ encounters with the ruling elite of the Temple. They use sophistry and trickery to entrap this dangerously popular teacher. In the end, their hypocrisy is exposed as they take and dispose of him by force. In argument, however, Jesus is always one step ahead of the game, and his integrity is ever intact.
The events described in the gospels are not meant to be analysed chronologically, but reflected on for meaning and application. Here is a simple summary for those inspired to continue.
The commemoration of Easter events does not stop with Good Friday or even Easter Sunday. Jesus’ story of resurrection goes on, equipping his frightened disciples with fresh courage and understanding . He ascends and then returns in the form of Spirit at the feast of Pentecost, outpouring on all flesh, equipping the receptive with the means to build a new global community imbued with compassion and creative boldness.
COVID-19 has certainly turned the tables over economically. “Free market” trickle-down philosophy has suddenly and seismically given way to billions of dollars worth of rescue to keep society viable. One can discern a palpable shift in many communities. Supermarket brawls that reflected neo-liberal “survival of the fittest” philosophy have given way to neighbours and strangers looking after each other. Imposed restrictions are giving rise to creative initiatives as people rediscover “the commons” – the way in which villages of old ensured everyone was “looked out for.” The miracle that no-one ever thought of is happening – a quiet socialist revolution under a strictly conservative government. As we continue to find ways of thriving while in danger, one ponders what will last, whether the new found good can remain sustainable or greed seek to take up the reins again.
The Monday before Easter commemorates the occasion of Jesus clearing the Jerusalem Temple of traders and money-changers – the one instance described of violent physical action on Jesus’ part. High level corruption had entered the holiest place and Jesus was having none of it. This action solidified the course for what many saw as his downfall and eventual trial and execution. They did not take into account the matter of resurrection, ascension and the pouring out of himself in Spirit when the world was gathered at Pentecost.
Corrupt systems have a finite shelf life. The human will to thrive in mutual community is forever.
Only four weeks ago Canning Highway in Perth was packed tight as thousands of fans commemorated Bon Jovi and AccaDacca’s “Highway to Hell” famous signature song vibrating from bands on a fleet of tray-top trucks as they rolled from Canning Bridge to Fremantle.
Four weeks later Perth’s highways are all but deserted as we self-isolate in a mass attempt to avert the worst effects of the Covid-19 corona virus.
Some would point to the “Highway to Hell” celebrations as a harbinger of doom, but Covid-19 was already well established in some pockets of the globe and well on its way here.
And now Palm Sunday is upon us. An occasion to reflect and reminisce on past Palm Sunday processions with Sunday School kids waving palms as they usher the congregation into services. Some brave churches even commandeer donkeys (well fasted!) to be ridden up the aisle of the sanctuary. The socially conscious rally outside city cathedrals to march for peace – taking their cue from the one who they named the Prince of Peace.
Perhaps only Jesus, the focus of the original procession, knew what a highway to hell he was travelling. A few short but long days of passion, betrayal, trial, abandonment, torture and suffering to beyond the point of death lay ahead – and he knew it. He had a purpose beyond our ken however – Christian scripture and tradition refer to the Harrowing of Hell performed by Christ between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. You can read about it here.
Waking dreams are the most interesting to ponder (even if they are the only ones I can now recall). This morning’s had the words in the title. What on earth was running through the caverns and labyrinths of my wild unconscious before it succumbed to its waking tethers?
A brief research of the origins and history of Tango on Wikipedia suggests the dreaming link might have something to do with a defiant response to a dominant threatening pandemic akin to the relationship of slavery, conquest and colonial powers.
My uneducated notions of the Tango seem to match this impression. Oppressed peoples succumb to the power of their overlords with a kind of matched syncopation that requires cooperation with the imposed restrictions. But there is a background defiance that finds creative expression in both music and movement.
I recall my early teenage judo lessons that taught me not to resist the power that is being wielded against you, but to move with it in such a way that it becomes your ally.
It seems to me that this is what many of us are attempting as we live in the isolation imposed on us by an invisible pandemic. We set up neighbourhood email networks, streets organise driveway happy hours, and apartment blocks sing from balconies. In Oz we have even taken to naming our nemesis “the ‘Rona.”
It seems we, as left footed as we may be, are learning to tango.
Well we’ve been off the grid since June (in that I’ve not posted much blog wise or social media.) What’s been happening?
We became embroiled in a national retirement housing scandal. Our “lease for life” house arrangement went belly-up as our investment went into receivership. We’ve lost $AU 259,000 and are lobbying the Federal Government for compensation on the basis of criminal negligence by the financial regulatory body that knew but failed to warn in spite of investors’ due diligence. We are approaching the zenith as Federal Parliament returns to sit and confirmed evidence of the regulatory body’s failure comes to light.
Stress related health matters arose as a result – nothing major but enough to grapple with medications and side-effects. A bit of a blow to the pride because I have been medication free until now. I’m approaching the age where planning for the management of one’s eventual mortality becomes a little more insistent. Wills, powers of attorney, financial management, future care, household management, and diminishment of physical and mental faculties play on the mind from time to time. The experience of acidie, (a spiritual becalming that is anything but calm!) has been an unwelcome but effective teacher during this time as my usual contemplative rhythms fell out of sync.
Bliss – the defiant celebration of our 40 year marriage in Singapore in the face of the breaking news of our housing predicament. The support of friends near and far. Laughter and a prevailing sense of humour. We’ve just had a week long visit from my sister and brother-in-law, enjoying the natural beauty spots around here, including our favourite, Wadjemup (aka Rottnest Island). My sister is the social glue of our extended family and enabled a re-connection with a cousin we have not seen in many years. We anticipate a similar visit from my brother and sister-in-law in November. It is always a delight to speak by phone and the new Marco Polo app with my 95 year old mother. (They all live 2695 kilometers (1675 miles) away by road in Adelaide, South Australia).
More than a year into retirement our lives are as full as ever. Supporting our extended household, contributing to the life of local and wider Perth church communities, we continue to measure the balance between leisure and work. Apart from my focused areas of ministry in spiritual direction, contemplative workshops and retreats and occasional worship services, I serve on a local university research ethics committee and am a trustee of our movement’s very large and energetic aged care services.
So this is why I’ve been a bit quiet online lately. The savvy amongst us may recognise the criss-crossing of the Quadratos four paths of the gospels in the above, dealing with the transforming life patterns of change, pain, bliss and service. (See Alexander Shaia: Heart and Mind: The Four-Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation: Second Edition.) It is amazing at times how each of these seasons can be experienced in the course of a single day. Awareness of this framework has not only kept us sane, but helped us in knowing what to anticipate and how to keep a bumpy ride in perspective.