The incarnation of creation

Autumn Leaves falling

In this Autumn season there is a ‘falling’, as we watch the leaves make their descent, swirling and twirling in the breezes. In this time we also celebrate the gathering of the harvest, giving thanks to God for the provision of the earth in all its goodness and abundance.

Incarnation  is a lovely word which describes a kind of ‘falling’ – the falling or descent of God to earth… the revelation of God in our material world. We often use the word in relation to Jesus as one who makes God known to us. But there is an incarnation which preceded the Bethlehem birth, and that is the very act of creation when God pours out himself into every material thing. ‘It is good!’ God acclaims in Genesis 1 and St. Paul in Romans 1 writes ‘ ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made’. Sometimes I think we don’t really catch what St. Paul is saying here!

This prior incarnation is still with us,  and we have opportunity to see each new day God with us – right in front of our eyes. In every little thing, and big thing, God is here. We just need to see… and that’s the problem for many of us. We see, but we don’t see. Jesus would make a similar observation in the gospels – and it’s true for us today. Yes we see creation – the trees, the vegetation, the ponies, the cattle, the fish, and clouds in the skies… but perhaps we don’t see. They just pass us by!

The Christian faith is an incarnational faith. It is founded on God making himself visible, touchable, and it is accessed first and foremost by our experience of it. By this I mean how it makes me feel – when I pat my pet dog Nahla, when I taste the beetroot in the salad, when I feel the sun rays on my back or the raindrops on my face – these experiences are the doorways, the windows into absorbing the very presence of God into me.

Clearly we are lost for words when we try and sum up this in any description. This is beyond our language – although we do give it a real good go! But as we absorb this presence something very real happens in us. The Russian author Leo Tolstoy describes it as ‘something that had been slumbering, something that was best within, suddenly awakes joyful and youthful’. Here Tolstoy is describing the experience of one of his protagonists, Andrew Bolkonsky, in War & Peace experiencing the incarnation. This waking up inside us happens every time we consciously offer gratitude for the ordinary material bits of life. And that’s what we do as a gathered community at Harvest.

And the ‘falling’ of the leaves this autumn reminds us that the incarnation of creation never stands still – it is still unfolding even when it looks as though it’s coming to an end!

 

The Internal Flow of Life

The sound of running water, from a mountain stream to a garden water feature, brings a wonderful sense of energy and life to the hottest of days. Perhaps, that’s why walking along a river in full flow is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I know our springer spaniel, Nahla, loves the sensation of moving water and the delight in swimming with the current – yes, she jumps into the most stagnant of waters, but when it’s flowing…. well you just can’t get her out!

 

Similarly, when encountering people who live ‘with an internal flow of life’ – we are incredibly blessed. These people have the capacity to see life as it really is and yet not be diminished by it in any sense at all. They live with a paradoxical exuberant patience, a dynamic kindness and an effervescent ability to listen and be part of any moment. God has given us life, he is the source of the vitality of life itself, and his energy is given to every plant, creature and human alike. It is only us humans who have the dismal inclination, time after time, to refuse the energy, and build walls of separation. This results in the inevitable weariness, discontent and dissatisfaction of much of contemporary life. We see it etched on people’s faces, we even feel it in our hearts and we catch it in the systemic competitiveness of our driven success culture. We find it so painstakingly difficult, in the words of Martin Luther King ‘to just get along with each other’. To refer to Nahla once more, she has no desire whatever to compare herself with any other living thing, she is happy as can be in just being Nahla. Within her spaniel soul, there is an unbridled ‘internal flow of life’. Meeting Nahla on a forest path, or emerging from the long grasses, or running with abandon across the beautiful landscapes of Longdown or Deerleap  – all evidence this perpetual ‘yes’ to life.

 

Yet for us humans we make everything so complicated. We over think our lives, we live in our heads and end up believing our thoughts really are us. This is really sad – especially as we find it so easy to think – over and over again – on the problems we all face, but give so little attention to the goodness of life in all its abundance. We mentally chew over encounters which do not go well, when things happen not to our liking, our conversation is energised when life goes wrong.  Nahla has no such problem! When her paw is bruised or there is a wound which makes running really difficult – she just adapts and accepts it. This is just how it is, it will pass, and so the tail just keeps wagging. Not for her is the thinking what this might mean for her future life, not for her is the raking over the past as to when and where this wound was inflicted and who was to blame. None of this! She just gets on with everything.

 

People who live with ‘an internal flow of life’ within them are those who go with what is in front of them. There is no question of blaming, or analysing and agonising over  future implications. These are the things which cause life to get blocked – culminating in a stench of stagnation which bears little resemblance to the vitality of what could have been. God gives us life, he wants us to be blessed by it and to in turn bless others. He wants us to give praise in all circumstances… to love life even when it is plain humdrum. This is the flow we are each called to live. As we take personal and then communal responsibility for this – the earth and all of life is cherished… and this is good – very good!

Be confident in ‘not knowing’

Dear Friends,

It can sometimes seem remarkably odd that salvation is accessed through a story of betrayal, intimidation, crucifixion, burial and resurrection – how can this be?

 

Everything in this story appears to be back to front. The Jesus who was ‘in the beginning’ – ridiculed and publicly shamed, death labelled as ‘good’ in the Good Friday name, and then there is the  rising from the dead – so enigmatic at times, and yet plainly physical and undeniable at other times.

All of this can leave us scratching our heads – how can this be celebrated as ‘salvation’… or ‘the way’ to life in all its fullness?

 

There is a very beautiful passage of scripture (John 14), often read at funerals, where Jesus tells his friends not to worry, because ‘in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places’ or ‘mansions’.  Jesus then says he will go to prepare a place for us, and we ‘know the way to the place where he is going’. This is all really encouraging, and lifts the spirit! But Thomas cuts in – ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Thomas, I imagine, is speaking for the other friends… ‘Jesus, we just don’t know…’

 

Some people depict the disciples, the friends of Jesus, as being a bit slow on the uptake… but I think their ‘not knowing’ and Thomas’s confidence in articulating this, is an important signpost for us in finding ‘the way’, in accessing ‘salvation in Jesus’, in embracing ‘the fullness of life’ Jesus promises us.

 

In our modern culture there is an urgency ‘to know’. Don’t be caught out, don’t be left looking stupid when you didn’t have the information to hand… make sure you give the appearance of knowing even when you don’t. Our professional services rely heavily on the confidence provided by a knowledgeable expertise. There’s no denying that certain bits of knowledge, and ‘knowing it’ can be really important and necessary. But when it comes to enjoying life and catching the fabulous  wonder of human existence, then maybe ‘knowing it all’ may not be helpful at all!

 

Thomas is a great example to us. He was not afraid in the John 14 conversation to say he didn’t know. Again after the resurrection, he wanted to touch the wounds of Jesus before he could say he knew. Thomas was not afraid of admitting he didn’t know. Perhaps that’s why, when he met the risen Jesus, but didn’t touch the wounds, he was able to exclaim so fully ‘My Lord and my God’.

 

Just imagine if we were to start each day with the acclamation ‘I don’t know…’ – waking up, being fully committed to the day… to the people we are to meet, the events which will come our way… and to still say ‘I don’t know…’ You see the people who have the confidence to say they don’t know, are the same people who find new things, new truths, and new horizons on a daily basis. But those who know everything, end up knowing nothing – because with them there is never any adventure, any exploration, any openness to something new.

 

The friends who buried the body of Jesus didn’t have everything sorted in their heads. In their minds and hearts, I imagine, there were some big, aching gaps. Mary in the garden, on that first Easter morning, plainly didn’t know. So today, don’t be a tedious know-it-all, let’s re-find the capacity ‘not to know’ while at the same time being entirely committed to life … paradoxically giving ourselves every chance to know! Great is the mystery of faith : Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

“Carrying our cross”

carry your cross

Dear Friends,

Believing is not as easy as it first sounds. We believe when we know something to be true, and this knowledge then impacts the way we do things.

Believing happens when we do stuff. When I risk floating on the water, I begin to know what it means to trust. And so I believe in the possibility of not sinking when in the water. Because I believe, I can enter the ocean and launch myself into the waters.

Jesus invites us to ‘believe the good news of the gospel’. Yet we can only believe when we know it is true, and we only know it is true when we have risked a little in ‘doing’ it. So how can we ‘do’ the good news of Jesus… because if we don’t ‘do’, our belief will only be academic, in our heads, and this is no good to anyone!

‘Doing’ the good news of Jesus is what Jesus means by ‘carrying our cross’. Carrying a cross is a very physical, tangible action. It is a million miles from simply reading a book and assenting to some ‘idea’ or ‘concept’. Carrying requires an action… an action which we will experience. When Jesus states it is the cross we must carry, He is directing our attention to the giving of himself on the Calvary cross. An action of self-giving love – not a nice ‘idea’ but a real, definitive action. At Calvary Jesus is not in control, He has forfeited any sense of directing operations – He has placed himself in the hands of the Roman governor Pilate, and the religious hierarchies. This is a concrete action by Jesus.

So, Jesus calls us, each one of us, to follow his example and ‘carry our cross’ – don’t be afraid of placing yourself in others control… and do it in love. This is a self giving love. As we act in this way we ‘do’ the good news of Jesus. As we ‘do’ the good news we experience the blessing this brings – it makes us feel good. Too many times we interpret this feeling good as something we should not admit to – so we try to put it to one side with the resulting impact that we don’t risk this self giving love… we become tired and weary… and we only end up doing it in our heads – which is no good to anyone!

Yet as we ‘do’ the actions of self-giving – making a cup of tea for a loved one, making a phone call or sending a text to check a friend is ok, smiling at a stranger, letting a fellow car driver join the queue of traffic ahead of us – these actions of self –giving – not looking for any reward or pat on the back are the gateway into believing. The impact of these actions provide us with ‘knowledge’ – self-giving brings a blessing of spirit – and this knowledge leads directly into believing in the ‘way’ Jesus has instructed us in.

And as we believe in this way, our hearts are changed, are made more expansive and we begin to uncover a new ‘me’ – a ‘me’ which lays to one side the compulsive weariness of our inability to believe what is really important, a ‘me’ which stands blessed in a love which knows no end. A ‘me’ which could even be described as a ‘new creation’.

So, asking ourselves each day – when have I ‘done’ some self-giving actions… when have I chosen to ‘deny myself’ and ‘bless the other…’ becomes a really important thing to do. In these simple and profound actions ‘believing’ becomes something ingrained into our psyche.

God gives of Himself to us each day –over and over again. In the heart of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) there is an amazing, voracious belief in the power of love. This is not an idea or nice sounding concept – it is something God ‘does’ in every moment.

‘Believers’ are not only people who sit in pews or sing hymns, but  those who ‘carry the cross’ with a joy and effervescence because they know this is the only way… the way to ‘believe in the good news of Jesus Christ’.

The Learning Curve

learning curve

Dear Friends,

The Learning Curve is something we’ve really got to get ourselves on!

It’s a curve taking us on a journey, a journey which has momentum as it travels on its upward trajectory…And when the learning is focused on learning  ‘how’ and ‘why’ rather than simply ‘what’ – then we are in for a real ride and a half!

However, there is a tangible sadness when for many adults life has ceased to include any learning whatsoever. Everything is known, with no new horizons, no new possibilities. When life becomes like this – it is as though life is being lived in a cemetery, and for many people this kind of existence takes root at a remarkably young age.

Perhaps this is why the responsibilities for organising and putting in place a school curriculum which stretches the mind and spirit is really key in nurturing a love of learning. You see, when learning is only ever entirely functional it has a limited scope and is usually tedious to the extreme (especially when it’s like this year after year after)!

During this month we keep the festival of Pentecost, when we celebrate the gift of God’s Holy Spirit on all creation. We are told in the prophecy of Joel that God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh. We have been drenched in it…it is given over and over again without limitation – on the young and the old, on the men and the women, on the infirm and the healthy. And why is it given… well it’s given to teach us, to lead us, to stretch us into being new people – people blessed and happy.

The Spirit is given into our hearts, the very centre of who we are. It is given so we may find a re-birthing of who we are with new horizons. A little bit like being born again. It is the learning curve – when we just know we are being stretched into a new existence. The Spirit begins its work from the inside – shaping our thinking, emotions and perspectives. As we allow it to be at work in  us, as we say yes to its operation then we often experience a peacefulness and energy settling on us…from the inside out.

But perhaps the overwhelming experience is that of learning – not the passing of exams, reaching the pass mark, but rather the sense that this thing called life is more adventure than simply going through the motions. In doing this we are introduced into faith and the possibilities this opens for us (for the faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains).

We say ‘yes’to it’s operation by praying with our hearts, by learning again to look, to gaze and watch without judgment and by practicing gratitude day in day out. The Spirit has been given, given to everyone and every thing, in every moment, it is here and as we begin to say ‘yes’ we place our lives – no matter how tentative this may be – on the learning curve to beat them all!