Love – the Only Response to Death and Suffering

On Tuesday evening I attended a Prayer Service for Sri Lanka, following the fatal bomb blasts that killed over 300 people on Easter Day.  It was hosted by Blacktown Uniting Church and organised by the Sri Lanka Reconciliation Forum and led by Uniting Church Ministers, Rev Dr John Jegasothy and Rev Radhika Sukumar-White.  Radhika, an Australian, Sri Lankan Tamil, spoke to the several hundred gathered people, expressing her deep pain and sadness over the evil and violence perpetrated to the people of Sri Lanka.  She spoke of the pain and struggle this small island nation has endured for decades through ethnic tensions and now religious violence.

I stood in a church in Blacktown surrounded by several hundred people of diverse backgrounds.  There were people of many religions and none.  There were many Sri Lankan people come to remember their homeland and the suffering.  There were many from non-Sri Lankan background come to share the sadness and pray and stand in solidarity for peace.

As I stood there I was aware of not only sadness but powerlessness that I felt before the evil powers of the world who do what they do and with scant regard for the pain and suffering they inflict on other innocent people.  I felt the immense powerlessness to change this evil – that I cannot do anything to make this situation right.  I can’t fix the problem, release the pain, change the evil-minded people who are constantly seeking the means to express their hatred through violence and bloodshed.  I cannot even begin to understand how such people think or what motivates them.  I cannot understand an evil and hatred so profound that it would inflict such devastating violence upon innocent people.  I also cannot understand how anyone can connect such evil to a deep spirituality or religious life – it simply doesn’t work.

Radhika told us how she and her congregation had journeyed through Good Friday and the pain and suffering of Jesus as he was driven towards his death on the cross.  She them recounted the joy of her congregation when they gathered on Easter Day to celebrate resurrection – the victory of love over death and violence and brings hope and joy.  They sang, prayed, listened, laughed and had Hot Cross Buns.  Then a few hours later she heard the news of murder and suffering in the homeland of her family, as others gathered to celebrate this same life and victory over death.  As they gathered to celebrate Easter Day and the victory of love over death, they were mercilessly killed.  The violence and evil of Good Friday, of the powers of evil in the world remains and we find ourselves caught between the joy and the pain, the hope and the reality of evil.  We are left confused and uncertain.  Does Easter have meaning in our lives?  Does Jesus’ death and resurrection mean anything in our world – or is it simply just an other-worldly story whose power lies beyond this world?

Over the last couple of weeks, I journeyed the Stations of the Cross – Northmead several times.  I came back to various works of art depicting this last journey of Jesus and pondered their deeper story and meaning.  I was challenged by the artist’s stories and their profound reflections on Jesus’ story.  The last time I journeyed through the Stations was as part of the Northmead Uniting Church Good Friday service where Rev Niall Reid led us through a series of reflections and readings using the various works of art to highlight and open the story’s meaning.  It was gentle and deep.  Over these couple of weeks, I had to sit with the story and its deep pain and struggle and how it reflects the experience of each of us and our world.  Niall led us to the place in the exhibition where ‘Resurrection’ is portrayed and said:

This is Good Friday, why are we standing in front of this Resurrection artwork, surely this has to wait until Easter Sunday?

When the criminal said ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’

Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Luke 23:43)

Really! How can this be, new life, resurrection today? But isn’t that sometime in the future. This artwork created with quantum physics in mind speaks of time, past, present and future coalescing – cross and resurrection ever and always existing together in the same moment – pain and suffering, healing and abundant life coexistent. Light and smoke [in the candle before the work].

On Sunday morning I stood at the lookout at Kurrajong Heights with about 50 others.  We watched the sun rising across the Sydney basin, although there was much beautiful mist down low over the suburbs.  It was magnificent, a beautiful sunrise, signalling a new day and on Easter Day, a new way in the world.  We read, prayed, sang and reflected on the story of hope breaking into the world’s pain, sadness and death.

As I ponder my experience on Tuesday evening standing in solidarity with the pain and suffering of the people of Sri Lanka, I was caught between the big hope and the evil reality.  The joy and the pain, the rising sun and the misted valley of darkness.  I was confused by the presence of people many religions and none standing together in peace, whilst the violence is attributed to ‘religious groups’.  I also ponder the Gospel story for this Sunday – John 20:19-31.  It is the evening of that first Easter Day and the followers of Jesus are hiding behind locked doors and solid walls.  Perhaps the news of Mary Magdalene that she has seen the Risen Christ, further coalesces their fear – will the authorities blame them for the removal of the body?  Will the authorities come for them anyway because they were with Jesus, part of the movement?  More than that is the utter confusion and dislocation of their grief.  Everything they have given themselves to and hoped for has vanished before their eyes as Jesus hung dying.  There is nothing more!

This locked room is the place where we all find ourselves at various points – lost, confused, grieving and powerlessness before the very big, dark and hostile world.  We can change nothing.  We have no real power and we feel utterly helpless.  It was into this locked room of despair that the Risen Christ, bearing wounds, appears – no knocking or keys, just presence in their midst.  His first words are: ‘Peace be with you!’  He says three times through the story – ‘Peace be with you!’  He offers them the peace that will sink into their being and release them from the fear that entraps them.  Despite the lingering scars and wounds that will remain, Love has overcome the death and pain.  The grief and suffering are real but in the midst is a Love that transcends everything and touches us in the depth of our being.  With it is the realisation that Love is the only thing that we have and all we can rely upon.  As a Buddhist speaker on Tuesday evening said quite simply: ‘Hatred cannot end hatred.  Only Love can see the end of hatred.’  These words are reflective of Jesus’ message that only Love can challenge hatred, evil and overcome death.

The hope for Sri Lanka lies in the power of people gathering together and standing in solidarity and committing themselves to love and peace.  Only this can overcome the evil that lurks and runs amok in our world.  It is the only response we can make.

This is the essence of the Christian story because God is the centre and essence of Love and God is with us in every experience and struggle to love us and give us life!

By geoffstevenson

Easter – the Dying-Rising Life

There’s a story that Fyodor Dostoevsky tells about his own dying-rising experience that opened his eyes, his mind and his being to a whole new experience of life and wonder.  He was arrested by the czar and sentenced to die.  He spoke of waking up on the day of his execution, his last day on earth.  He dressed slowly feeling the fabric on his body.  He ate breakfast slowly and tasted every bite, savouring each flavour.  As he walked through the courtyard, he felt the sun on his back and neck and breathed the freshness in the air.  He looked into people’s faces and saw the humanity in each person.  He saw the world as he had never seen or experienced it before.  His senses were heightened, and he felt really alive!  He was lined up with others against a wall.  There were a line of soldiers standing facing them.  They were blindfolded and then the commander gave the command and the soldiers fired their guns.  He held his breath and awaited whatever it was that death would be.  He heard the sounds of guns but felt nothing, nothing and as he waited for the mystery of death to enfold him, there was the gradual awareness that he was not dying but the guns were filled with blanks.  He was alive!

This was a cruel psychological trick the czar played on people who were rebellious and made trouble for his regime.  He blindfolded them and stood them before a firing squad.  They heard the shots go off but felt nothing and slowly realised the guns were filled with blanks.  The emotional reaction that went with the experience of your own death, without dying transformed people in profound ways.

Dostoevsky experienced this as very significant and life-changing.  He said everything about him changed out of this experience of ‘dying’.  In fact there was a real sense of dying in Dostoevsky’s experience.  He died to his egotistical way of being.  He died to his narrow views of life and people and the world.  His eyes opened to deeper realities.  He became truly grateful for everything, even towards people he had previously hated.  He was thankful for everything about life and for life itself.  He saw everything anew and the sacredness in life and all things.  Dostoevsky claims it was this experience that led him to become a novelist and enabled him to perceive dimensions of reality he had never known before.

Ultimately Easter is about seeing, seeing again, seeing anew, seeing more deeply.  It is about seeing ourselves, others, the world in ever new and deeper ways.  There is a dying and rising into a new consciousness that is about wisdom and love, the currency of real life and living.  The story of Easter draws us into the paradigm of losing ourselves in order to find our life in a deeper, more profound and holistic way.  It is about letting go in order to embrace something new and richer.  It is, of necessity, a movement away from a predominant dependence upon the material to embrace the spiritual and emotional.  It is the movement out of violence, fear and dualistic thinking that draws lines between us and others, that defines ‘right and wrong’, ‘in and out’ and seeks to control people and ideas creating belief systems and ideologies that lock us into narrow, judgemental ways of seeing and being.

Easter opens the doors of life to new ways of embracing the world in which we live, the people who inhabit this rich, blue planet and the Earth itself.  Easter opens us to the spiritual reality that holds everything else in love.  As Dostoevsky discovered, it is a journey into wonder and being enabled to see anew and to find the sacred and holy that imbues the ordinary things with meaning, significance and beauty.  It is to breathe the air and experience its freshness.  It is to feel and know the sun on our back or the tastes in the foods we eat and to see the unique beauty and humanity in each face we encounter.

Anthony de Mello relates a story he heard on Spanish television.  A gentleman knocks on his son’s door. “Jaime,” he says, “wake up!”  Jaime answers, “I don’t want to get up, Papa.”  The father shouts, “Get up, you have to go to school.”

Jaime says, “I don’t want to go to school.”  “Why not?” asks the father.

“Three reasons,” says Jaime. First, because it’s so dull; second, the kids tease me; and third, I hate school.

And the father says, “Well, I am going to give you three reasons why you must go to school. First, because it is your duty; second, because you are forty-five years old, and third, because you are the headmaster.”

Easter is also about waking up to the life and possibilities that are before us.  Good Friday takes us into the space where we confront the pain and struggle of life and the uncertainty and confusion that accompanies an honest engagement with who we are and the nature of the world in which we live.  There is grief and loss, a woundedness in our emotional being.  There is the call to ‘let go’ of baggage and belief systems that bind us to a past that was important back then and holds memories that are rich but is impotent to engage and transform the present moment in our lives and world.  It is less difficult and painful to allow ourselves to be distracted by other things or to pledge unfailing loyalty to a set of beliefs, faith-filled or otherwise.  Waking up and embracing the world as it is and to journey into the potential of our own being takes energy, will and courage.  There is struggle and vulnerability – Jesus on a cross is the metaphor powerlessness and vulnerability and paints a very different picture of God.  Until we let go of our need for control and power and the need to ‘be right’ we can never find the path into life that is freedom and joy, hope and wonder.  The path to resurrection requires us to move through crucifixion and experience the dying in order to rise into new life and living.  This is a journey that is spiritual, emotional and physical.  It involves our whole being.  The dying we experience is not necessarily literal physical death but a metaphorical dying, which is still very real and often difficult.

There was a man recuperating in bed.  He watched as a butterfly slowly chewed through its cocoon, that lay near his window.  The hole gradually opened further and then the butterfly began its painful emergence into the world.  It struggled to bend and push its new and long wings out of through the hole.  The struggle went on for a few hours and the man observed the butterfly tiring and that struggle increasingly difficult.  Feeling compassion and pity, he took some small scissors and cut a larger hole into the cocoon and enabled the butterfly to emerge more easily.

The butterfly shuffled off but never did extend its wings fully.  It was never able to use its wings because the man had halted the process of pushing and struggling that pushed blood and nutrient into the farthest parts of the wings and helped develop the strength it would need.  The butterfly needed the struggle and harsh, difficult experience to gain the strength and capacity to become a whole and healthy butterfly.  The rising to new life as a butterfly was only realised through the dying as a caterpillar and the struggle required to embrace a new body, a new being and to grow into it.

Easter takes us into this story where Jesus embraces the way of suffering, the Via Dolorosa, and journeys to the cross.  He is vulnerable before the powers of the world and succumbs to their violence.  But beyond hatred and violence is the power of love that overcomes evil and he experiences life in a new and profound way, called resurrection.  It is this pattern of dying-rising into the love of God that we are invited to embrace.  It is an invitation to let go and trust our whole being in this gracious mystery and love of God.


By geoffstevenson

The Journey Towards the Cross and Beyond…

The painting is huge – over 2 metres by 2 metres in 4 panels. It has a lot of bright yellow over dark areas with lots of people in the foreground and foreboding clouds at the top.  It portrays something big; a big picture of an extraordinary event that has significance beyond the story on which it is based.  The artist, Chris Wyatt, is trying to tell me that something big and extraordinary is happening and its impact affects me and our world.

In the centre are 2 figures who are standing with hands tied behind their backs.  They stand before a judge of some description as the masses watch on.  One is Jesus Barabbas, a 1st century rebel who caused problems in the Roman-occupied city of Jerusalem.  The other, Jesus, the Christ, who also caused problems in the Roman-occupied city of Jerusalem.  They stand accused of causing uprising, stirring the crowds into unreasonable and undesired expectations of freedom.  They come from different directions – Barabbas, a freedom fighter or zealot, stirred up riots.  Jesus opposed a way of violence and exclusive power that demeaned and diminished people.  He proclaimed the way of love, grounded in God, a way of justice, peace, mercy and life for all people.  The Romans took exception to both.

This picture stands as the first station in this year’s Stations of the Cross – Northmead 2019, Art Exhibition.  You can’t miss this painting.  You can’t quietly sneak past it.  You can’t avoid this overwhelming, confronting picture.  It is confronting because it is about life – specifically the life of Jesus, 2 millennia ago.  It is confronting because Jesus is being sentenced to death.  It is confronting because this choice has ripples into the lives of people crowding around in hope that he might deliver them.  It is confronting because this event is archetypal.  It is the place where truth, love and goodness face the violence of the world and where justice is distorted by the ignorance and fear of power and the status quo.

There are other images in this brilliant exhibition that collude to challenge the beliefs and practices of the world in which we live.  An indigenous artist, Black Douglas, challenges the colonial demands to colonial religious practices imposed upon him and his people whilst ignoring the deep and rich spiritual traditions the Spirit inspired in this ancient land.  Colonialism denied his people of culture and life and has transformed the landscape, their home, in ways that are not sustainable.

Another artist, Rodney Pople, portrays the ‘stripping of Jesus’ through an image of George Pell being stripped of his ecclesiastical clothing and paraphernalia.  At first, I avoided this painting, feeling the horror of everything to which it points in the outcomes of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.  I feel the evil and the abuse to vulnerable people, the protection of evil people and institutions.  I also feel the evil done to the way of God in Christ and in this painting, I understand that every evil committed and condoned by church figures strips Christ of everything.  How can I be part of the wider institutions that failed in this horrific way?  How can I not be part of the faith that has forever stood humble and naked before the vulnerable and suffering of the world?  As I continued my excursion through this last journey of Jesus towards the cross I understand Jesus descends further into pain, struggle, aloneness and the raw naked reality of absolute powerlessness and humility.

Through the journey he falls.  I recognise myself in these metaphorical falls.  I fall.  I stumble, I struggle and I lose my balance.  The balance of my physical, emotional and spiritual being.  I get seduced along the way to believe that life is found in all manner of things that feel good, taste good, look enticing.  Fear and confusion lull me into false sense of trust and lead me down the wrong paths and I lose my way, overbalancing, falling.  I fall in different ways at different times.  Sometimes the fall is about self-doubt and uncertainty about what is real, true and good.  It is easy to get lost in the marketplace of consumptive options, the plethora of images and the magnetic pull of expectation or hope or the desire to be safe, certain, secure and in control – somehow.

But I somehow get to my feet and the journey continues.  Sometimes others help me up.  Sometimes it is a prayer or contemplative moment that breaks through the clouds of unknowing or despair.  Sometimes it is the simple beauty of the world around me that breaks through into my world and draws me back into the place of wonder, awe and mystery and I feel the sacred possibility in the moment and God is very, very close.  A work called ‘Laiden’ in this exhibition, confronts me with the weight of life and expectation and the baggage we carry with us.  Chris Auckett and Leanne Sawyer have created an image of a fallen figure carrying the baggage of life as we journey with others who look on, who are part of the journey or who add to our own weight.  All of us fall under the weight and unless we can give it up, let go, hand it over and receive the outstretched hands of other people, we will continue to fall, and fall, and fall.

The artist’s stories of remembering that arise in this exhibition connect me with my own story and how all of our stories are held most fully in the story of Jesus and his dramatic, dynamic journey to the cross.  He is pushed pitilessly forward into the growing darkness towards the brutality of crucifixion and death.  It is a courageous journey, as are all journeys to our death.  It is a lonely journey as we all will face and must ultimately confront alone at that final point.

As I journey through these images, back and forward, exploring them through listening, retreat, and jazz music, I come face to face with this One who is at the heart of all things.  It is a sacred space in the midst of ordinary and the other visual images around this high school auditorium juxtapose the plethora of images and contrasting stories and highlight the deep Presence in the midst of all things.  As Easter draws near and these images become more figurative in the story of Good Friday and Easter Day, I recognise the place where life is lived and the struggle we all engage to make the journey that is your life and mine.  We confront many decisions, some challenging and others straightforward and all of us live our lives in and through the One who holds everything in deep love and grace – whether we understand this, recognise this or even believe this.

The falling leaves of autumn, with their colour and beauty.  The remaining flowers giving colour and joy.  The grey gums burnished with reds and browns.  The clouds the float through the sky and the life that is all around me sings a chorus of joy, hope and the cyclic nature of all things.  In the midst of all of this God is present to draw me out of myself and lead me into a place of deeper perception and the holding of all things in balance.  I am drawn into the place where I understand the dying-rising nature of life in God.  There are always things in my being that need to die, in order that some deeper, truer, more self-aware being can emerge.  It is in this place that wisdom arises and the place of resurrection in this story takes on an eternal, timeless feel, where the ‘time’ beyond time breaks into my experience and lifts my vision until I see and know and live in a deeper, more grateful place.  The Risen Christ is the sign of my being loved in the most profound way and drawn into the richness of Love at the heart of everything.  Easter leads me through life into death to live anew!

By geoffstevenson

Which Path, Which Parade Will You Join?

This Sunday is called Palm Sunday.  It is a religious festival that celebrates Jesus ‘triumphal’ entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem.  It came just days before his crucifixion.  Jesus had organised a donkey to be available and the peasant crowds gathered outside the city walls.  As he rode they placed clothing on the ground before him, some waved branches and they hailed him as Messiah – one sent by God to deliver the people (it usually had militaristic connotations).  They cried ‘Hosanna’, which means ‘save us’.  It was a call from ordinary oppressed people who struggled in their lives for salvation and liberation – in God.

Whilst the Bible’s four Gospels (‘good news’ stories of Jesus) each include a version of this story, none indicate the probability of another ‘triumphal’ entry into the Holy City around the same time.  It was most likely that Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of the whole region rode down from his coastal residence into Jerusalem.  The Jewish Passover Festival celebrates the liberation of the people from slavery and oppression in Egypt under Moses’ leadership.  They celebrated how God liberated their ancestors and brought them into freedom.  It was a high time in the city.  It unleashed the deep yearnings of the people’s lives, their hopes for peace and freedom under God, not Rome.  Messianic expectations were high and in the swelling crowds there was often unrest, rebellion and trouble.  Pilate’s presence was militaristic and violent, to ensure people bowed to the power of Rome, maintained peace and his forces squashed uprisings.

Pilate’s entry would have been large, noisy, filled with pomp, ceremony and all the entrapments of wealth and power.  Foot soldiers, mounted soldiers, Pilate on a war horse, a large stallion as a show of power and might.  Trumpets and heralds, the clomping of hooves, boots hitting the ground in time, metal on leather.  This was a show of force and might; the message loud and clear – ‘Don’t mess with Rome!’

This way of power, force, and might is common through history.  The US strike on Iraq was ‘Shock and Awe,’ a massive show of power and force designed to bring the opposition to their knees very quickly.  Tiananmen Square was another demonstration of power.  Vladimir Putin is equally adroit at the use of power and might to generate fear and warning, whether in his more subtle imprisonments and executions of those who oppose him to his use of Russian naval vessels sailing off the coast of Australia when we hosted the G20 meeting in Brisbane.

In the ‘Age of Discovery’ European nations sent their ships out to conquer the unknown, undiscovered world.  In forces of power the military campaigns seized lands and threatened indigenous people with overwhelming might and subdued them.  The stories are horrific and evil, leaving lasting scars and deep wounding of the collective psyche of many of the world’s indigenous peoples.   This is the way of Empire and power.  It was the way of Rome in the 1st century.

So, two parades, two entries in the city from opposing directions and opposing theologies.  Rome had its Roman Imperial Theology that worshipped Caesar as the all-powerful Deity and it’s theological/philosophical agenda upheld the power of violence and the abuse of ordinary people for the sake of the powerful and the empire.  It sustained the notion that Caesar was Divine and had all wisdom, might and must be served and worshipped by all people.

On the other hand, Jesus proclaimed another reign that he called the Reign of God.  In this Reign, God was over all, in all and through all.  It was/is a Reign of love where God, like a Divine parent, nurtures and cares for all creation – the creation that finds its very life and being in the being of God.  It is a Reign where justice and love balance each other and work together so that all have enough and all are equal, held in the beautiful diversity that is everywhere around us.  Jesus proclaimed a way that was not predicated on the use of violence or a show of force but of humility and he became vulnerable in order to reveal to true power of love and the weakness of abusive power found in empire.

As he paraded into Jerusalem, in his counter-cultural entry on a donkey, Jesus was hailed as the Messiah but with the cry, ‘Save us!’ (Hosanna).  It was a heart-felt cry from people who were desperate and yearning for another way in the world, a way that treated them and others with respect and gave everyone a fair go, enough food and all else they needed to live.  They cried out to one who was so different from the leadership of both Rome and the Jerusalem Temple.  They cried out to one who incarnated in his own being, humility, wisdom, love, grace, mercy, compassion, community, inclusion, welcome, peace, justice, hope and kindness.  Jesus stood so much taller than the leaders the people had experienced and his vision captured their imaginations and his life and words captured their hearts and being.

This is why he was ultimately crucified, because the world can’t deal with true love and life.  Power cannot abide in inclusive sharing and violence can only sustain itself by countering peace with more violence and abuse.  We see this all around us as political leaders across the world generate fear and divide and conquer their people.  If they have military might they threaten.  Jesus presented such a radically beautiful and inclusive Reign of Love that the powers had to be rid of him, lest they lose their control, and everyone finds a equal place.  When the status quo is threatened, it strikes back with vehemence and all the might it can pull together.  The status quo never likes being challenged but it must be, for the sake of the vulnerable and little people of the earth – and for the sake of the earth itself!

So, two parades, two philosophies, two ways in life in the world – which are you going to embrace?  Which vision will you believe?  Which song will you sing?  Which one does your own heart yearn for?  Will it be the slick ride ‘to the top’, where power flows through our body like electricity, tingling every nerve with the energy of might?  How long will this last?  How long before it burns us out, along with the world around us?  How many people have to be trampled over in order for the few to stand high and mighty?

Will you choose the low road, the alternative path less travelled where wisdom and love guide your way in vulnerable and humble freedom to be yourself without pretence or affectation?  Will you choose a way that stands firmly against the ways of violence and abuse, injustice and exclusion?  It will take courage and community because you can’t walk this way alone – but you won’t have to because the one who journeyed this path walks with you and his community shares the journey of life!

By geoffstevenson

On Being Alive…

Sociologist, preacher and storyteller, Tony Campolo, tells a story about life and being alive.  It is entitled, ‘Are You Alive?’

Several years ago, I taught a course at the University of Pennsylvania entitled, “Existentialism and Sociologism.”  One semester, on the first day of class, I pointed to an unsuspecting student and startled him when I asked, “How long have you lived?” The student was taken aback by the question and answered, “I’m twenty-two.”

“No! No! No!” I said.  “What you’ve told me is how long your heart has been pumping blood.  My question was, how long have you lived?”

The student looked puzzled and couldn’t quite grasp what I was talking about.  I then told him this story of something special that happened to me when I was in ninth grade and our school class took a trip to New York City. 

We were taken to the top of the Empire State Building and, like most boys my age, I was chasing girls and crawling around the observation area.  Then suddenly, I caught myself!  I walked to the railing and peered over the edge of the building.  The magnificence of the skyscrapers of New York lay before me and I stood there, stunned into reverence.  In one mystical moment, I absorbed the city.  I gazed at it with such intensity that if I were to live a million years that moment would still be part of my consciousness.  I was so fully alive at that moment, that I sensed it had become part of my eternal now. 

Then looking at the student, I again posed the question: “How long have you lived?”

My student answered pensively, “When you put it that way, Doc, maybe a couple of minutes.  I don’t know.  It’s hard to say.  Most of my life has been a meaningless passage of time, between all too few moments of genuine aliveness.”

Campolo’s story invites me to ponder what it means to be alive and how few people ‘live fully’.  How much of our life is spent in that ‘meaningless passage of time’?  How much of our time is lived seeking things that ultimately prove superficial?  I know that I have been lured down many paths over the course of my life.  Some have been gloriously wonderful and others a waste of energy and a bit like one of those custard-filled donut/pastries I used to indulge in as a young adult.  They tasted so good going down.  My mouth was filled with a flood of tasty custard, chocolate and sugary, fatty flavours.  The combination is always appealing to the taste buds and stomach, but it doesn’t take long for the good taste to fade and a stale taste to fill my mouth and leave me seeking something to replace it.  I am still occasionally lured into eating such ‘treats’ and inevitably regret it.

There have been experiences in life that I have believed ‘I needed’, urged on by popular opinion, media and the strong sense I might miss out on something if I didn’t grasp the possibility.  It may have been acquiring something new, the latest fad or piece of new technology.  It may have been going somewhere or doing something daring, new or risky as a kid experiencing the big world beyond our yard.  Some of these experiences or acquisitions have been marvellous and others left me wondering whether it was worth it.

As I move through middle age the questions around what is important, and meaningful grow stronger.  Perhaps it is that as we grow older there are less years ahead than behind?  Perhaps, it is that I have lived longer, tried many things and can see through the false promises; I’m more cynical or perhaps more realistic and less interested in hype and material stuff these days.  A question for me, arising from pondering this story, is “What is worth living and dying for?” What is worth putting lots of energy into?  What gets me going and makes me feel really alive?

There are several answers to this question but most, for me, are grounded in living fully in a moment (or two).  I recognise that I must not be caught in holding onto the past, whether the good things I want to cling to or the bad things I regret.  I must also refrain from the temptation of constantly living for the future – planning and thought for the future is important but constantly being caught there is not living.  I think back to the significant events that are momentous – marriage, birth of children, baptism of children, celebrating life of those I’ve loved who have died and dealing with the deep pain, significant events and activities I have shared in with our family and friends.  There have been simple moments of ‘being together’ and laughing or enjoying a shared moment; sharing over a meal, simple or complex, indulgent or basic.  Listening to, and for me playing, music that grabs me and pulls me into a moment that is profound and takes me beyond time to another place.  Walking our dogs through the local bush, around the creek and experiencing the beauty of each new day; observing the wonders of life and the world around me.  It is a very rich experience that fills me with awe.  Last year when Susan and I visited Uluru and Kata Tjuta, it was a deeply spiritual and profound experience.  Watching these rock formations through sunrise, sunset and the changing moments of the day was quite special.  Touching these rocks up close was very significant and being in the presence of these sacred places was moving and enlivening.

For me, those moments imbued with the spiritual are very rich and deeply profound.  I am captured into something much bigger than myself and in touch with deeper reality and the sacredness at the very heart of everything.  I understand these experiences as being ‘in God’, of living in the very presence of the One who holds everything in love and grace that I can barely describe or even understand.  It is a profound mystery that is too often beyond mere words but it gives me life and enlivens me in the richest way.  It is worth living for!

This week I am challenged by the story of a woman, a simple woman who offers the most outrageously intimate act of love to Jesus (John 12:1-8).  Mary is her name and her brother is the recently restored-to-life Lazarus who also sits at the dinner table.  Her sister, Martha serves the food and there are other guests, including the disciples.  During the meal, Mary lets her hair down, breaks open an expensive jar of perfume and rubs it into Jesus’ feet.  She then wipes his feet with her hair.  This would be questionable in most company today, but in the 1st century such a sensuous, intimate act was scandalous.  It is likened to the act of a prostitute, seductive and sexual.  Mary has no such thought – it is an act of deep love for One who is experienced in his deeply loving, profoundly holy and gracious life.  Mary recognises the extravagance of Jesus’ love in restoring her brother’s life and openly loving her and her sister as equal human beings.  Mary is alive in this sacred moment and gives everything she has and is to share this love, life, joy and gratitude with the one who has and will give everything for her, and the world God loves.

It is only a little while later that Jesus dies for the sake of his love and mission of revealing God’s way of love and joy to the world.  He goes to the cross knowing that he is alive in God and anything less than the pursuit of this mission of love and grace will be something less than true living.  He is alive and shares this life with all who will receive!

In the New Testament story, Paul shares how he could have had or been everything the world around valued, but he found it wanting and gave himself and everything he had (and endured struggle and pain!) to follow Jesus and live the life of God’s love, peace and joy.

By geoffstevenson