Friday, 25 January 2019


‘There is a story about a drunk man searching for his keys under a lamp-post despite losing them inside his house. “Why are you looking for them here?” he is asked. “Because there is much more light here than in my house,” the drunk man replies. 

The point is that we tend to seek where it is easy rather than where we lose the inner light of God, in the difficulties, where our attention is captured, where we feel uneasy, uncomfortable, isolated or separated.

So my apologies to anyone who has already heard this story about three forgetful friends playing bridge.

One of them suddenly says, “Sometimes I catch myself with a jar of mayonnaise in my hand in front of the refrigerator and I really just can’t remember whether I need to put it away or make a sandwich.”

A second friend agrees, saying he often pauses, befuddled, on the stairway, unsure of whether he was going up it or down it, and why.

The third friend, a recent widower, says; “Oh no, not me, I don’t have anything like those problems at all; and a very good job too, knock on wood (and then he does)….. Oh! There’s the door, whose going to get it?”

Most of us are like this, we don’t even know our attention is habitually lost so we are asking the wrong questions. I have not done a Eucharist for four years without spending one hour in silence first because when you do not know how to be present, you cannot access the Presence who is real, so lost are you in the transitory mind and emotions....
....and there was the man whose memory was so bad that when he awoke, he couldn’t remember where he had put his clothes the night before. He was so worried about finding his things on waking up, that he couldn’t fall asleep.

One evening, taking pencil and paper, he wrote down where he had placed each item of clothing. Placing his notes by his bed, he fell asleep, confident he would find it in the morning. And he did. He woke up, took the notes and read: 'pants—on chair back; and there they were. He put them on. ‘shirt—on bed post;' and there it was. He put it on. 'hat—on desk'; and there it sat. He placed it on his head. In a few minutes he was completely dressed, but then… a great dread came upon him once again.

‘Yes, yes,’ he said aloud. ‘Here are my pants, my shirt, and my cap; but where am I?’ He looked and looked and looked, but now he couldn’t find himself, and that’s how it is with most of us us too. Only when you are present, will you be able to stop identifying with problems and know Presence.

It is that simple and that difficult, and too much religion encourages you to be unconscious, absent, and search for your keys where it is easy rather than in the dark where you will need the inner light of God who really is. God respects you too much for this, which is why “Today” is the first word of Jesus’ public teaching. “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) And the last words he spoke to his apostles, in the Garden of Gethsemane were these... “Stay awake.” (Matt 26:38) Today, stake awake.

Think about it: where am I? Where are you? I’m standing here! And you’re sitting there, of course! It’s obvious. Or is it really obvious? At some point, especially if I keep droning on long enough, you may look at your watch and say ‘What time is it? When does this end anyway? I wonder what there will be to eat later on?’ And if you can catch yourself at that very moment, then where are you? Are you still here? Or have you been lost? Suddenly looked at your watch and left this moment in favour of some other?

Similarly, you could be sitting here listening to me, and suddenly remember that you forgot to return an important email, or you could remember a fight you had with a family member. Again, are you really here, or are you now lost? In either case, have you actually left the chair? Physically, of course not. But in every other sense—you have left. You’re gone. You’re missing this moment, the only moment that’s really happening! And that is why being present to God where we lost God is important, which is the great task of religion, to keep you fully awake, alert, and conscious. Then you know what you need to know in your context.

The reason atheism and agnosticism are so common is that we no longer teach people how to be present, to stay awake, in the places they lose the ability to do this, which are usually the places it hurts.  Nowadays we educate distract or entertain the mind or emotions, we very rarely drop into the heart and just be in the body.  Presence is a full-body experience, not an idea in the mind. The mind we identify with can only reprocess the past, judge the present, and worry about the future.  With one foot in the past and one in the future we completely miss the point, which is the presence in whom we live and move and have our Being (Acts 17;28) and knowing that thou art that, the source of body and mind and creation.  

Instead, we become blind to who is, captive to what was, oppressed by what might be, unavailable to those we love, to the needs of the world, and absent to our Self. That is not the life to which Jesus calls us. The freedom to be and become fully alive, fully human, fully Christlike, can only happen here and now, in embodied compassion in the present moment, because Jesus neither reminisces about the past nor forecasts the future. “Filled with the power of the spirit” and “anointed to bring good news to the poor,” he comes “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” and we are the poor, captive, blind, oppressed, those seeking favour.

In the midst of our inability to pay attention, our poverty of love, hope, or meaning, our emotional and spiritual blindness, it is easy to run away, get stuck in the past, fixate on the future, but Jesus comes today, here, now, embodied, not lost in our past or hidden in an unknown future. The only place we meet God is here and now.  Today is when God brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, frees the oppressed, and proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour. Only presence of Christ today can heal our past or prepare our future.

This is made real to the extent we admit powerlessness to stop resisting, or fighting our addictions to thoughts, things, behaviours, and just say Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions. I let go of desire for power and control. I let go of desire for affection, esteem, approval, pleasure. I let go of desire for survival and security. I let go of desire to change any situation, condition, person, or myself. I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action right within and beyond this body.

Which brings us to politics. When I say politics I am not talking about the unending nightmare of Brexit but the challenges of living in community or relationship. The opinions we hold, the decisions we make, can only be right when we are present and the mind surrenders to the heart in openness and receptivity, embodied, boundaryless. 

Jesus’ political identity begins not with his individuality, role, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, nation, party loyalty, or tribe, but with baptism. “You are the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” From knowing he is the Beloved, Jesus is led by the Spirit in the wilderness where he overcomes the corrupters of politics: materialism, power, narrowing self-interest. Empowered, he worships and teaches in synagogues where he grew, to people who know him, and reads this from the Prophet: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Those words describe the politics of Jesus. Good news to the poor, release to the captive, sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go, declaring God’s favour. They are not campaign promises for the future but a present reality. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.” From here on everything he does is grounded in a politics of release, sight, freedom, divine favour, healing the sick, casting out demons, forgiving sins, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, being open to pain, suffering, rejection, to death resurrection and ascension, which is why we are all here, and could apply to us too.   

At the heart of Jesus’ politics is an unspoken ever-present question to us: Where does it hurt? Because; “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Matt 9;12) So where does it hurt? Where do you keep losing attention? Where do you become obsessed? You only find God if you look for God where you lost and lose God. 

Jesus’ political agenda is not determined or influenced by who is good or bad, insider or outsider, it is the politics of presence. Where are you poor? Good news to you. Where are you captive? Release for you. Where are you blind? Sight to you. Where are you oppressed? Go in freedom. Divine favour is not given to the poor, captive, blind, or oppressed because they are good or righteous, but because God is good and righteous, and they are now open to God’s presence, rather than trying to avoid it.

I could quote so many scriptures about stillness silence and presence we would be here for hours, so instead just let me ask you this. Are you open to this presence, or lost in personal politics? Are you aware the scriptures are encouraging you to be present and vulnerable to God as your true Being, your inner light, not lost in the personal issues? Are you present to God, or thinking? If you are really here, sensitive, embodied, present, in the sacrament of this present moment, you will notice that all boldily sensations are transient, continually passing away. That is why St Paul said “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:24-25).

With Jesus as our teacher we are awake to fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:18).  We look for the keys where we lost them, using the light within.   

We stay present, to what is eternal inside, and this is a release.  The past is history, the future a mystery, but the eternal in our bodies is a gift. That word gift is why the present in called present, and only the present is here.


Thursday, 17 January 2019

They have no wine?

At the end of a busy day, a man and a woman are sitting on the veranda in the quiet twilight, broken only by the sounds of gentle wind, and swash of the waves.
They are enjoying a glass of wine together. As the sun slowly sinks below the mountains, the woman breaks the soothing silence to suddenly say, “I love you so much I don’t know I could ever live without you.”

Completely surprised at this, the man asks her, “Is that you or the wine talking?” But she explains that she was actually talking to her glass of wine, and not to him.

Despite such personal disappointments, there is someone closer than a person could ever be, someone impersonal, someone intimately within and quite beyond our experience, and someone we literally cannot live without. It takes brokenness to become intimate with this real being in relationship before you die. Nothing, an 18th century Jewish mystic said, is as whole as a broken heart. And it was the 21st century singer Leonard Cohen who said “There is a crack in everything, and that is how the light gets in.”  So  if you really want to be whole, get a feel for your brokenness.
When Mary says to Jesus at the wedding at Cana (John 2 1-12) “They have no wine,” she speaks a truth about persons who believe they are separate from the divine.
If we believe we are a separated body/mind, we resist marriage to God. And then the wine gives out. The glass is empty. The party over. Life seems dry. The day wears on, we become increasingly aware we cannot replenish the wine with our separate resources. Despite our best efforts, our good intentions, our hard work, the wine of our own life is always giving out. This is the truth. We refill our glass, it becomes empty. There isn’t enough. We may live, but we will be less than fully alive, unaware of our true nature. We will, as Mary tells Jesus, “have no wine”. And that's OK.
As separated beings we cannot be recipients of a full life and we might even resent the creator. If we believe in the self-sufficiency of being a separate body mind there will be no vibrancy or vitality, nothing grows or ferments, the bouquet of life is colourless, tasteless. The failure of our belief in our own power might seem like a disaster, an embarrassment, or a failure, as it did for the bride and groom at the Canan wedding, but it will confront us with truth old as creation, new as eternity, open to the eternal.

It may come on the day of a diagnosis, the death of a loved one, the loss of a friendship or marriage. It might be a search for love and acceptance, thirst for meaning and significance, guilt, disappointment, regret, fear, failure, self-doubt, depression, longing for something we can’t name, or unanswered prayer that brings it. But really, every single moment we ever resist is all our ‘having no wine’. 

Because we come to the wedding at Cana every single day, none of us guests or spectators, all of us participants, ready for union, intimacy and wholeness, our marriage to God.

As Jesus said, I and the Father are one, I can do nothing without the Father, as he and I are One, may they be One in us. So the day our wine runs out is a miracle, it is the day we let God be God and realise at last that as individual body minds we are only God’s empty jars. We have this treasure in empty jars, as 2 Cor 4;7 says, which means we realise we don’t own or control our glasses so Christ does not simply refill them, we are transformed into Christ.

This being in Christ begins to be fully experienced when the wine gives out and we accept our emptiness.  The being in relationship at the source of all existence can’t be realised unless our wine runs out.  And even then, some of us are sorely tempted to look for a substitute by working even harder, doing even more, or smashing our glass altogether.

If we try to escape experience we shrink. If we give that effort up and share God’s divine nature as our birth-right in God’s image, we know the truth - Christ the eternal vintner and chief steward is pouring Godself into everything there is, every sensation and thought, right here, and now. Mary knows, when she says “they have no wine,” that running out of wine is no failure, disaster, shameful calamity, or tragic end we believe it to be, it is openness to the only real Self.

If there had been enough wine, the participants at the wedding would have had to settle for something inferior and illusory and transient. But they received God in their midst, the best wine, by knowing they had run out of their own.

As people with nowhere to turn we realise we are recipients of God’s experience, not separated finite body/minds.  Just as Jesus waited until the cheap stuff ran out before he took water and made 180 gallons of the best wine, God waits until our illusion of self-sufficiency runs out, and we empty ourself of ourself, to allow us to know God’s fullness as all there is. Psalm 36 says this of God - you give them drink from the river of your delights. So, if the wine has run out...

Good.  It isn’t about your separate personal experience, it is about the priceless being whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, and is so close you hardly usually notice it. As St Augustine said, God is closer to you than you are to yourself. So then let yourself go to find God.

A poem describes gladly letting the cheap wine, your limited searching, finally run out. “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown. He replied: Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way. I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. God led me to the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
In all life's circumstances, no matter how they feel, open up to the One at the centre of the experiences, the infinite reality of God, the only fine wine, is love flowing in you, as you, and for you, making human and divine one in you if you don’t resist what is happening, and this wonder beauty love potential and peace passes all our understanding.

But it is the truth, of One real being, in relationship.