November reflection 2017

Standard

The dancer

And David danced before the Lord ( 2 Samuel 6:14)

A few months ago I saw the ballet Romeo and Juliet at Maynardville. I just loved the dance between Juliet and Romeo when they first meet and have time together. The dance becomes so sensuous and fluid, and their bodies defy gravity. Their love for each other seems unbounded by space and time.

The performance spurred me on to see Don Quixote at the Artscape – I have always been fascinated by the Spanish story of Cervantes. The crazy romantic Don Quixote “who will march into hell for a heavenly cause.”

The truth is I have always been mesmerised by the dance. Let me add that I am no dancer, but I will get up and shake my body around on the dance floor. I am a pretend dancer. Either I was a great dancer in my previous life so that is not my gift now, or I am preparing to be one in my next life.

I remember Zorba’s dance of the 1960s and the film Zorba the Greek which I saw a good many times. How when the mine shafts had collapsed, he took his boss by the hand and danced.

The poet Rainer Rilke wrote this poem after watching a Spanish woman dance:

Spanish dancer

As on all its sides a kitchen-match darts white
flickering tongues before it bursts into flame:
with the audience around her, quickened, hot,
her dance begins to flicker in the dark room.

And all at once it is completely fire.

One upward glance and she ignites her hair
and, whirling faster and faster, fans her dress
into passionate flames, till it becomes a furnace
from which, like startled rattlesnakes, the long
naked arms uncoil, aroused and clicking.

And then: as if the fire were too tight
around her body, she takes and flings it out
haughtily, with an imperious gesture,
and watches: it lies raging on the floor,
still blazing up, and the flames refuse to die –
Till, moving with total confidence and a sweet
exultant smile, she looks up finally
and stamps it out with powerful small feet.

What a powerful display of the energy and imagination of the dancer and the poet.

A verse from Leonard Cohen’s song Dance me to the End of Love sees dance as a rhythm and movement of life and love that holds us, carries us, soothes us,  comforts us and heals us.

“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love”
― Leonard Cohen

And the Sufi poet Rumi sees the dance as a great spiritual force that takes us through the events of life, and gives us a great depth of freedom of soul.

 

Dance when you’re broken open.

Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.

Dance in the middle of fighting.

Dance in your blood.

Dance when you’re perfectly free

 

Like Zorba, let the dance of life and love flow in your veins and dance through whatever comes.

Bob Commin

Refer to my other reflections

Advertisements

Rejoice in the Lord always

Standard

Two quilt designs from the Desmond and Leah Tutu Exhibition in Cape Town

Rejoice in the Lord always

 

Rejoice[c] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Phil 4)

When I was a teenager the Methodist Church in Woodstock, was gutted by fire in the late 1960s. It was a central and significant place for many young people then. The pulpit text for the next Sunday was “Rejoice in the Lord Always, Again I say rejoice.

What did it mean? Hadn’t our church burnt down! Shouldn’t we express anger at God? Despair at the ways of the world.

Or was it saying something deeper. It was not asking us to be romantic about our faith, to be unrealistic about what happens in the world. Or that God treats the people who serve God better than the enemies of God. No! Faith is realistic about the world, though grounded in hope and trust.

Christians and all people of faith, must of all people be realistic, and still be people of faith and common sense.

The poet and Sufi mystic of the 13th century Rumi told this delightful story:

There was once a man who was on his way back home from market with his camel and, as he’d had a good day, he decided to stop at a mosque along the road and offer his thanks to God.

He left his camel outside and went in with his prayer mat and spent several hours offering thanks to Allah, praying and promising that he’d be a good Muslim in the future, help the poor and be an upstanding pillar of his community.

When he emerged it was already dark and lo and behold – his camel was gone!
He immediately flew into a violent temper and shook his fist at the sky, yelling:

“You traitor, Allah! How could you do this to me? I put all my trust in you and then you go and stab me in the back like this!”

A passing sufi dervish heard the man yelling and chuckled to himself.

“Listen,” he said, “Trust God but, you know, tie up your camel.”

 

The way of faith doesn’t promise us a life of ease, or a life without suffering or illness, but it does promise us an individual and community way through all these difficulties.

For us to “rejoice in the Lord always” there needs to be an inner certainity and centredness.

I love the following two poems of Rainer Maria Rilke an Austrian by birth who found himself in a Russian monastry at the turning of the 18th century to that of the 19th. Of course there were many doom-mongers about as there was at the turning of the millennium.

Rilke 1800 -1900 From: The Book of the Monastic life

1.1

The hour is striking so close above me,

So clear and so sharp,

That all my senses ring with it.

I feel now: there’s a power in me

To grasp and give shape to my world.

 

I know that nothing has ever been real

Without my beholding it.

All becoming has needed me.

My looking ripens things

They come toward me, to meet and be met.

 

The second poem speaks of the challenge and the way forward

 

1.2

I live my life in widening circles

That reach out across the world.

I may not complete this last one

But I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.

I have been circling for thousands of years

And I still don’t know: am I a falcon,

A storm, or a great song?

 

I live my life in widening circles – But I give myself to it and my looking, ripens things. The way we observe and approach things, matters, and changes things, certainly in us. The approach and attitude we bring to people and things makes a huge difference in the world.

How good if all this emanates from an inner joy. I like to think that at our best we are part of a great song.

Prayer of St Theresa

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that
has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

Bob Commin October 2017

Follow my blog for the latest reflections and poems https://bobcommin.wordpress.com

Wedding Blessing

Standard

Marriage Blessing

Add heading

May this be a good marriage

May it be like oven-baked bread,

And the aroma of coffee

May it be full of laughter and playfulness

May it be like trees leaning toward each other

Filtering the light with their leaves

And giving each other shade

May it nourish the person between you

The soul that you breathe into being

May it be as a stream fresh with activity

And a mirror to keep sight of yourself.

May it be full of timeless moments,

When you are present to each other,

And know that you are one, in love’s blessing.

Bob Commin Sept 2017

Awake out of Sleep

Standard

Awake out of Sleep

This reflection is based on a sermon I preached a week ago.

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; 13 let us live honourably as in the day, Romans 13

 

I wonder if you have ever had the experience of waking up, in a religious sort of way – many people speak of such moments.

I suspect many of us were brought up in Christian homes – were taken to church – but even then there must have been a moment, when we said, “Aha this is true for me.”

I remember waking up to this at school – in apartheid South Africa- with a sense that this was all wrong, and that Jesus and Christianity showed us another path, in which all humanity is valued and respected.

I love this poem by Rumi the Sufi Mystic about waking up.

The breeze at dawn has something to tell you,

don’t go back to sleep

You must ask for what you want

don’t go back to sleep

people/angels are going back and forth across the doorsill

where the two worlds meet.

don’t go back to sleep

The door is wide and open

don’t go back to sleep

You must ask for what you want

don’t go back to sleep

 

The bible speaks of time as Kairos, and not as Chronos, not tick-tock time, but as season, as quality and significant time, a moment when time disappears or expands, and we lose all sense of it, and a meeting takes place with the Wholly Other.

I have been reading the work of Meister EckhartSAM_1543, a 14 century Dominican philosopher, theologian and mystic. I feel that I have found/ woken up to someone who explains how I feel about my faith, and how I express it. It would be very difficult for me to explain adequately and simply his approach.

He is not an ascetic who believes we have to chastise our bodies, because it gets in the way of our souls.

He believe in original blessing/ not sin. The first thing to say about us is that we are loved- children of God, that God blesses us, and that we are a blessing in the world.

That Being/God is a circle and we and all creatures are in this circle of Being.

That God infuses all creatures. God is Knocking at our door, asking to be let in.

As he uses images as God as Father, so he uses images of God as mother as well.

God is at home, it is we who have gone for a walk.

The moment we realise this and open the door, the moment we Wake-up, God enters and Gives birth to his Son in us.

He calls this our Breakthrough

 

He quotes a beautiful passage from Wisdom 18:14-15

When peaceful silence lay over all,

and night had run the half of his sweet course,

down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt

your all powerful Word;

into the heart of a doomed land the stern warrior leapt.

He writes:

In our Creation we are in God, but in our breakthrough we know we are in God and in the Godhead. The union is total in our breakhrough. There “God and I are one”. In such ecstasy all dualism dies, all separation ceases, union takes over. But this union is not enough, fruitfulness is richer than union alone. Our union needs to bear fruit, it needs to give birth to compassion in the world.

 

So how do we meet with God. One way is through prayer?

But we have to go beyond words, beyond images, for though they are necessary for our being human in our wonderful God created world, they do not help in this kind of prayer.

How is God to be known?

In silence, beyond all images of God

We have to let go of all these things

We have to reach for silence beyond the silence,

For God is beyond all images of God

 

Eckhard says that the Our Father prayer, when we pray:

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done

Means just this, a letting go of everything, and letting God be God in us.

Is this difficult? So many people are aware of this – Classes of mindfulness, yoga, relaxation exercises; a way of breathing that brings us to a deep silence.

No it is not difficult for us to enter such a practice.

 

I should think that growing old is a wonderful practice of letting go; would that politicians would not cling to things so much.

Perhaps then real compassion would be born in them, in our country and in us.

Bob Commin Sept 2017

 

The Mustard Seed

Standard

The Mustard Seed

August Reflection 2017

One of my favourite images of the Kingdom of God, and the church is the mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds (its presence and energy hidden in mystery) which becomes a huge tree, so that the birds come and nest in its branches, the creatures of the field nestle in its shade, and people come take the fruit –go home, sit around a table, light a candle and create a feast of food, conversation and culture.

How lovely when we see this image revealed in a person. A good friend of mine John Cobby died recently at the age of 93. He was such a person, a forester in Kenya, and South Africa. I got to know him in his later years. He had such green fingers, hands like soil, he could make plants grow in his hands. Flowers streamed like crimson rivers from his pots. I enjoyed his knowledge, conversation and humanity – loved the way he and his wife made friends with younger people. He was the delight of his whole family, all his grandchildren – a huge tree. There are two words that speak of him”: hospitality and invitation.

He was like the householder in the parable who took out of his store: things old and things new.

There was that sense of about him, of the old and the new coming together, and of the adventure of life going forward.

How lovely when we see the image of the mustard tree revealed in a person.

Two poems on the theme.

Trees

 

Trees I see you in a new way,

You are the great earth mothers,

You rise from her depths like a hand,

and where there is nothing,

Slowly, steadily, you reach

into it. And you say to us,

see nothing teems with life.

The song of birds celebrate sky

Insects burrow mansions unimaginable

Water falls and rises with a heartbeat

Shadows shape new moments

and moons ease through your leaves.

Mornings you bathe with fragrances

and like one who nurtures,

you give your bark, your leaves and fruit,

even your tears of resin.

Teasing our imaginations you say,

What will you do with these?

You say, when will you take

your hand and reach into nothing.

Bob Commin

 

 

 

Tree  Blessing

 

Soak up the sun

Affirm life’s magic

Be graceful in the wind

Stand tall after a storm

Feel refreshed after it rains

Grow strong without notice

Be prepared for each season

Hang tough through a cold spell

Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring

Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky

Be still long enough to

hear your own leaves rustling.

I ShraggIMG_2386

Sermon for the Dedication of St Mary the Virgin, Woodstock, Cape Town

Standard

Service of the Dedication St Mary’s Woodstock

20170629_145431

What a privilege to be here on your day of Dedication your Church of St Mary the Virgin, Woodstock, Cape Town…..

All the readings today are wonderful passages of scripture – you can spend this whole week just meditating on them.

The beautiful prayer of Solomon on the dedication of the first Temple of Jerusalem

‘But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! ….29 May your eyes be open towards this temple night and day, this place of which you said, “My Name shall be there,” …. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray towards this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

 

Psalm 8

How lovely is your dwelling-place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young –
a place near your altar,

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

I Peter 2

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

 And then the Gospel

Luke 19: The story of Zacchaeus – the example of a new human being, the change of heart, the transformed individual.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

 So we start with stones. Solomon offers the prayer for the dedication of the first Temple – but how can the great God of all creation dwell in a house of stone. How can God’s name be here! Bricks and mortar. Forgive us for thinking that it is even possible.

The Psalmist though seem to have a deep sense that the Temple is a place of beauty where God dwells:

How lovely is your dwelling-place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.

What a transformation this area of Woodstock has gone through over the years, the buildings had become run down, and many people and St Mary’s people moved out of the area.  Then the outside of the church was transformed and stood as the most beautiful and valued structures in the area, holding the story of Woodstock’s past. The stones a golden honey in its busy and noisy surroundings.

Mary Oliver has an interesting poem:

The spirit

likes to dress up like this:

ten fingers,

ten toes,

 

shoulders, and all the rest

at night

in the black branches,

in the morning

…………………………….

It could float, of course,

but would rather

 

plumb rough matter.

Airy and shapeless thing,

it needs

the metaphor of the body,

From Thirst

God comes to us on our journey, God likes to dress up – God comes to us under the forms of Bread and Wine to feed us his Community, to feed us Body and Soul. God is found under the form, of churches, trees, sky, mountains, earth, sea.

St Francis must have known, at least intuitively, that there is only one enduring spiritual insight and everything else follows from it: The visible world is an active doorway to the invisible world, and the invisible world is much larger than the visible. (From Richard Rohr)

This special and sacred building reminds us that every building, our homes and business, our work place, our school can be a meeting place with the divine, round the table, in the garden under the tree, in the playground.

Some recollection of St Mary’s

My first experience of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream coat – it must have been in 1970s, the boys and girls of St Mary’s and this area, made up the cast. They were dressed in Hessian bags.

 Then another memory of St Mary’s is of the saintly Fr John Rowland who had been here for many years. St Mary’s is built on his prayers:

Do you know that the new liturgy started here? Fr Rowland started what became known as the Woodstock Rite.  A movement away from the high altar, and priest facing away, like a great leader, to an altar in our midst, and priest and people together, being the people of God, the priesthood of all believers. Such a creative liturgical movement took place here at St Mary’s, then came liturgy for Africa, then Liturgy 75, then prayer-book we use today.

And of course Bishop Mervyn Castle was a great son of St Mary’s, a man who helped to shape the spirituality of our church, with his gentle personality.

As one walks through Woodstock on a Sunday, you will notice that worship is pouring out of so many buildings, and in many languages praising God. And the poorest attended churches are the most beautiful, Anglican, Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches.

Does it speak of a failure on our behalf? Have we missed many opportunities to grow the church into the lives of people?

Richard Rohr says in his Thursday Meditation: Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything and everywhere becomes an occasion for good and an encounter with God.

Soon the flats across the way will be filling up with people – they will see this beautiful church on the road and enquire about it. Will you even want some of those people here, and how will you engage them?

  • Perhaps in this new upmarket area, lunch time or Sunday evening music/concerts, a jazz eucharist, will be a way to bring people into this lovely church which speaks of the beauty, holiness and humanity of God, and of course you may have many plans to engage new people.
  • We engage people by our warm humanity. There is a movement in Scripture from stone temples to the pulsing temple of the heart where God’s Holy Spirit indwells.
  • And the story of Zaccheaus is a story of a life transformed, a movement from a scheming, corrupt and deceitful individual, so that this cheat becomes an example of the new human being, a Christ conscious person.
  • At an Interfaith gathering a few evenings ago I came away with these thoughts:
  • Never think of a person as a problem but as a mystery to be contemplated – Jesus and Zaccheaus
  • How much personal self-reflection are we doing
  • And when we change, the whole world changes
  • And we become who we are: Who are we?
  • 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Bob Commin

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon on The Feast of Corpus Christi

Standard

Sermon on Corpus Christi 2017

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day
man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.
The Feast of Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body of Christ is celebrated on the eighth Thursday after Easter. It celebrates and gives thanks for The Eucharist. It remembers and reflects on Maundy Thursday. Holy Week has its own focus – tonight we have space to reflect on the meaning of this wonderful meal
Corpus Christi’s was only instituted in the 14th century. St Juliana of Belgium, woman, was the great inspiration of the day. It was dropped in the reformation, but has made a gradual return.

We call this service we enter into tonight, – this sacred meal of the bread and wine, the liturgy of the Eucharist. How powerful is Liturgy, which means the work of the people of God?
I tell a story to show how powerful it is: I Communist Russia at a great gathering of people in a certain town, the leaders of the Communist regime are addressing the people. The Russian Orthodox priest is also invited to address the people. He is first told that he has 30 minutes to speaks, but the other leaders speak too long. They come to him and say, “you now have only ten minutes”. He say that that is all ne needs. They then come to tell him he has only five minutes. All the others they spoken too long in their praise of the party. Finally it is his turn. He only has two minutes, but he seems happy with that. He goes to the podium. There is a great silence. Then he cries aloud: Christ is Risen
And as one person they cry back in return, the great Easter response
Christ is risen Indeed. The story shows how deep the liturgy goes in us It is the
Frame/ the trellis/the container/ format – which often holds us as God’s people, through our faith times and our times of doubts.
Is it something that was just made up, certainly it evolved over the centuries?
It has its roots in the Scriptures?
It is like a dance, with many steps, many responses, but once you know the steps, you can fly like a dancer. Just a word or sentence may carry you away, so that you may end up in a different place, to the preacher, prayers, and others.
The great thanksgiving, for in it is the offering of the whole of life to God, through art, music, ritual, tradition, culture, material possessions and the offering of yourself, for consecration, for blessing and transformation, “that heaven and earth may be filled with the glory of God.”
Here is the still point in time when the past, present and future merge into one. Jesus told us to do this in Remembrance of him – when we remember something that thing in the past becomes a present reality, so that we experience it again. Through the Scriptures we experience our common past again. But the future for which we pray becomes present too. In the Eucharist Prayer we have a glimpse of that future: We call upon, “Angels and archangels, with all the company of heaven- the whole church past and present, all the saints and martyrs and heavenly beings to join us in the GREAT THANSGIVING. The future too is present.
And in it all this act of remembrance Christ becomes present for us.
From Mary Oliver’s Thirst:
1. The Vast Ocean Begins Just Outside Our Church – the eucharist
Something has happened
to the bread
and the wine.
They have been blessed.
What now?
The body leans forward
to receive the gift
from the priest’s hand,
then the chalice.
They are something else now
from what they were
before this began.
I want
to see Jesus,
maybe in the clouds
or on the shore,
just walking,
beautiful man
and clearly
someone else
besides.
On the hard days
I ask myself
if I ever will.
Also there are times
my body whispers to me
that I have. —Mary Oliver
I love to refer to this meal of the Bread and Wine as the Meal of our Humanity. As we break bread together we share in the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity. For here we are fed by the one who is so truly human, and who shows us how to be human: Love one another as I have love you.
man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD
Bread – material possessions only, or Bread – spiritual manner from heaven, bread filled with divine presence
In another poems Mary Oliver says:
The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning
…………………………….
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

God comes to us on our journey, God likes to dress up – God comes to us under the forms of Bread and Wine to feed us his Community, to feed us Body and Soul.
Because of this sacred meal, we are reminded that every meal is important and sacred. That is why we say grace before meals – a meal is a grace, a gift. We are people of grace who sit around our table and enter into conversation respecting the humanity of everyone present.
I wonder what Grace you say: Zorba the Greek is a famous character in work of Nikos Kazanzakis – he is a very earthy and inspirational character: I love his graces: he would look at the food on the table and say something like this:
Lord may this bread, and this leg of lamb, and these beans, become in us, be transformed into wonderful conversation, respect for each other, compassion for the needy, may this food become in us art and music and song and dance.
Some meal!
That’s how we are being fed in the Eucharist, God in bread and wine, transforming us.
One last thought Remember is to make present: When two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.

But there is another meaning: Re – member – to put all the members together again. To reassemble, to put all the parts together.
To become the members in the world that will make Christ present
Together as we share our gifts and talents – we make Christ active in the world
I came across this saying by Mahatma Ghandi, and it really blew my mind.
There are many people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of Bread.
There is mission in the Eucharist – God out be Christ in the would.
That is why Teresa of Avila can say this prayer, and I close with it.

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.