Being Eastered

Easter celebrations are behind us, the kids are back in school and Anzac Day beckons. The days are closing in earlier and evening meals on the veranda are coming to an end. Somehow the realization that Easter is a season and not just a day has been lost, overtaken, forgotten!

That’s a shame, because more than ever we need Easter. We need to be eastered.  A while back at a regular Sunday Mass, I watched a chubby little girl, no more than 16 months old, dance her way through the Our Father. The congregation sang, she held tight to her father’s hand and danced in time to the music, ending with a decided shake of her nappy clad behind. It was the season of Easter and she was a dancing alleluia.

Right through Lent, even people who rarely attend church have an increased awareness of Jesus’s message to love one another. They raise money for others in need, train for fun runs, buy hot cross buns and anticipate Easter and its celebration. There are Palm Sunday processions, Good Friday prayer gatherings in local parks, church services. Come Easter Tuesday, we pack away any lingering alleluias with the left-over Easter eggs and move on to the next thing. Celebrating Easter

Young children find alleluia a difficult word to pronounce. Most adults  find it a difficult word to live.  All those els seem to originate from the high-pitched tongue trill perfected by rejoicing women from many African and Asian countries. The liturgy of the six weeks of Easter is punctuated by alleluias, because Easter is about more than the death of Jesus and the incomprehensible, faith-battering fact of the resurrection.

The risen Jesus left a trail of joy in his appearances. The women’s words tumbled over each other, their faces glowed as they burst in on the grieving apostles. There were meals sweetened with honeycomb and the physical presence of Jesus, the comfort of an unexpected early morning barbecue on the beach, the shaft of joy that flamed in the hearts of the Emmaus couple, the constant greeting, “Peace be with you”. For six weeks Jesus eastered those who missed him the most.

The memory of those days would carry them as they spread the Good News. Fear would always be just beneath the surface – fear that the task was beyond them, of the aggression they faced, the sacrifices involved. The joy of their Easter days overcame their vulnerabilities, became a strength that saw them through to the end and in time would give hope, strength and joy to each new generation of Christians.

We need that eastering just as much as the apostles did, maybe even more. We need hope that a world that has the weapons to kill each other will choose not to use them. We need to get a lot better at finding the joy that sweetens our Good Friday and Holy Saturday experiences. That joy can be elusive, it’s usually fleeting and it defies description. But it’s there, and we recognise it when we are conscious of an inner voice wordlessly saying, “Peace be with you”.

Judith Lynch

The space in between

The catalogues jamming my letter box suggest ways I can ‘make more of my easter’. Easter, they tell me, is for egg hunters, bunnies, heroes, the outdoors and relaxation. My church invites me to join them for three liturgies spread over four days, culminating in Easter Sunday. And once again I’m caught in a bind, because none of these invitations hit the spot.

Egg hunts are fun and already I’ve got some sneaky hiding places worked out to slow down my two young grandsons in their search for chocolate. Bunnies? Well in my part of the world rabbits eat newly-planted seedlings and dig holes where we wish they wouldn’t. The advertiser’s idea of a hero was more Spiderman than Jesus, though I suppose some connection could be made. And the long Easter weekend spent relaxing outdoors is an Australian institution.

During the couple of years I lived in a one shop and one pub town, our small Sunday Mass community planned an outdoor Good Friday stations of the cross. Beginning at the local cemetery and punctuated with stops for appropriate words, we straggled our way up a small hill and planted a rough cross on its crest. The words, the actions, the landscape, even the way the children jostled the adults for their turn to carry the cross, made it a liturgy that was relevant to those who were present.Desert bloom #10

It’s that right now relevance I miss in the church-based liturgies that mark Holy Week. I understand their symbolism, but they don’t touch my heart or move my spirit. I want to get beneath all the words, the sprig of Palm Sunday greenery, the foot washing, kissing a crucifix and craning for a glimpse of a little fire in a barbecue pan before taking my seat in the darkened church.

I long for a tangible recognition that the people in the pew and the billions across the world, like me, are all living out their own Good Friday and Easter Sunday stories. And like the Jesus story we read in the gospels, these two days are separated by Holy Saturday. Unlike the gospel story, however, our Holy Saturdays can last a long time.

We spend our lives waiting for the pain, grief and loss that go hand-in-hand with life, to abate, to go away, to ease. People living with the fallout of tragedy look for something they call closure. The Syrian grandmother whose whole family died in a bomb attack, rocks to and fro in a sea of pain, longing for the touch and sound of her dead children and her grandchildren. The people along the Queensland coast pick through their  muddy homes and workplaces, grieving the loss of possessions, longing for the clean-up to be over and life getting back into something they recognise as normal.

The followers of Jesus were plunged into a similar space after the horror of the Friday we call good. Two days later, behind closed doors, they were whispering excitedly and wonderingly about the possibility that Jesus was still among them.  Peace and joy came slowly. They needed time to come to terms with the fact that their lives had changed, that Jesus was still with them but now it was up to them to spread the good news.

The words and symbols of the Holy Week liturgy focus on the events of the days they commemorate. The commercial world ignores them all together. But all of us need more.  If we are to recognise the Easters of our life and discover the new life they hold, then we need to be reminded that God is always there, waiting with us as we face up to our own Good Fridays and struggle through our Holy Saturdays.

However you spend the coming Easter, may you find God in whatever gifts its lead-up and follow-through have to offer.

Judith Lynch

 

 

 

 

Prayer by heart

duck-pond-autumn-tree When I wrote Lenten Chocolate about a month ago, I said that my Lenten practice this year would be to spend time re-reading books that have nurtured my spirit in the past and others that might inspire me, and help me to find God in the material of my own life. I chose a couple of novels, but they didn’t make the grade, so they went back to the library. A couple more went into my op shop box for the same reason. That leaves me slowly getting through The Good People by Hannah Kent – beautifully written but challenging in more ways than one.

My re-read is the Thomas Merton book, New Seeds of Contemplation. I wanted his words to drift into my prayer. Reading Thomas Merton is like eating chocolate mud cake – best in small pieces. He makes me think-and sometimes squirm-as I recognise the places and times when I haven’t  measured up to be the person God has dreamed for me. This time, for some reason, Thomas annoyed me. I’m aware of his being a man of his times (he died in 1968), and he uses language that is religiously structured and sprinkled with he and men – never she. Definitely not woman-friendly, but I wondered why it hadn’t bothered me in the past.

I like to image women’s approach to spirituality and prayer as being like supermarket shopping., While men proceed at speed  up and down the aisle armed with a list, women saunter, up and down and back and around with a list in hand and the rest in their head, with space left for impulse buys and specials.

Women approach their God relationship much the same way. Men’s prayer and the way they talk about God-things tends to be direct and focused, quite formal, I’m tempted to say ‘man-to-man’. Women instinctively integrate the restrictions and complexities, the ups and down and roundabouts of their lives, into their prayer.

I learnt to pray in primary school, mostly in words that I was required to learn ‘by heart’ – only they didn’t touch my heart. My years in religious life were supported by a formal prayer structure and nurtured by books about prayer – mainly written by males. I learnt that personal prayer was like a ladder, and as I got older and more experienced spiritually, as I climbed it rung by rung, I would reach God right up there at the top. Praying was hard work.

Then I left religious life and with it the structured prayer that had bookended my days.  As the years have rolled on with their experiences, memories and turning points, the way I pray seems to change, just as my hair colour and styling does. But the stuff of my life was, and still is, the stuff of my prayer. Sometimes it is exciting and God feels very close, but mostly it’s as ordinary as the ever-changing clutter on my kitchen bench.

I see prayer as relationship with God.  It can be wordy, and it’s also something like my two year old grandson, home after a long day at child care, patting the sofa he was sitting on and telling Tim, his dad, “Sit here” – just wanting the closeness with his father for a little while.

There’s no right or wrong way to pray, there’s just lots of ways. Occasionally I need to remind myself that God is not timing my prayer. I might spend an hour sitting in the sun or strolling through a park, just being, letting God look after the concerns of life for me, and other days it’s a minute or two before sleep intervenes.  Prayer is like the everyday love that backs the relationship we have with those we love- 24/7, even when it’s not conscious.

So I’m back to wrestling with Thomas Merton’s choice of words as part of my prayer. If this is my Lenten chocolate, then it’s the 70 percent variety – a little bitter.

Judith Lynch

Women talk

 

Let me start with exciting news! For the past eighteen months I have been writing a book about the choices I’ve made in my life, where they took me and how they sit with me today. Writing a lot of very personal stuff has been hard work but now it’s finished.

 

Only not quite.  Its just  had its first major edit and I have some re-writing to do before its fit to be published. Hopefully by the end of the year, if not sooner, it will be available to read.  

 

 

It’s in the bag

 

Last Christmas I came across the  Share The Dignity website  and a campaign they run called It’s in the Bag. At Christmas children in need are well catered for but women who are homeless,  in a domestic bag2violence refuge or caught in a poverty trap,  are forgotten.  Their suggestion: they asked Australians to donate a handbag they no longer used, fill it with items that would make a woman feel special and even pop a thoughtful note into the bag to show her that someone cares and that she matters.

 

What you put in your gift will depend on your bag size, your budget and your imagination.  They suggested toiletries and hair products like shampoo and hair clips. Maybe some lotions or creams  as well as something pretty like a pair of earrings or perfume. You might put in a pen or a note book, a scarf, socks or undies.

 

Come mid- November the filled bags will be collected at various points across the country, ready to be distributed through a multitude of caring agencies. Or you might organize your own little distribution centre.

Vatican frustration

 

Wednesday was International Women’s Day and even though she’s well known in some circles it’s likely that you’ve never heard of Marie Collins.

 

As a child in the 1960s Ireland she was sexually abused by a priest and her adult life is being spent   campaigning for a better understanding of the effects sexual abuse on children as well as her hands-on  involvement with agencies for  women and men who were similarly abused.

 

In March 2014 Pope Francis, in an effort to  deal with the scandal of sex abuse of children that was sweeping through the Catholic Church,  set up the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors. Marie Collins was a member , the lone abuse survivor among a small group of clerics and experts.

 

Marie CollinsAt the time she said, “This certainly is a significant change in the way the Vatican is doing things. But there have been promises before. I get the feeling that it is different this timer. The fact that there are more lay people than clergy on the council is itself an enormous change. ..I think the council is a good setup and I hope we can bring about real change.”  

 

Marie’s hopes were dashed and the week before last she resigned from the council, the last representative of abuse survivors to do so, frustrated  by the lack of cooperation from the powerful groups that run the Vatican machine.  

 

Asked about her thoughts on resigning from the council Marie replied, “  I don’t regret resigning, because at this point I think it was something I had to do to retain my own integrity. ”

 

 In the ensuing fall-out it has been said that that Marie’s decision to resign because the council was being hindered in its work, may be a testing of Pope Francis’ credibility in the way he and the wider Church handles sexual abuse I issues.  The personal integrity of one white-haired woman has challenged the might of the Vatican bureaucracy. I for one am proud of her.

Judith Lynch

 

 

 

Lenten chocolate

I love op shops and Sunday markets. They inspire me with the hidden possibilities of someone’s once-upon- a- time treasures and must-haves. The piles of books particularly draw me and I go home with yet more for my overstocked bookcase, as well as a crick in my neck from trying to read titles sideways. books-in-home-library

I’m a reader from way back. In fact I was conceived in the residence behind the little lending library that my parents bought soon after they were married. As soon as I could read my dad took me to the municipal library for a borrower’s ticket. Week by week I read my way through a shelf length of Enid Blyton titles before moving on to something with a little more substance. Christmas presents always featured a brand new Annual, full of stories that I would gobble up, like ice cream on a hot day.

Several years of unrestricted reading came to an end when I entered religious life. There would be no more reading in bed or losing myself in the English novels I was discovering. For the next six years all fiction was out of bounds. I ploughed through lives of saintly people, stories of Marian apparitions and wordy spirituality written by elderly male clerics a lifetime away from my young adult understanding of life, let alone my self-knowledge.

Then I swapped city living for the Australian Top End, and in my Mission convent I discovered a collection of Georgette Heyer romances and Agatha Christie whodunits. But convent discipline was entrenched in me by now and for the next twelve years I restricted my fiction reading to the thirty minute midday siesta. Through the years of parenting and full time employment that followed and into retirement I have continued to treat time to read as a kind of reward – a bit like allowing myself a couple of squares of chocolate with a suppertime cup of coffee.

Maybe it’s a Catholic thing, guilt that is. If it feels good then it can’t be good for your soul. Lent with its buzz words of prayer, fasting and alms-giving so often turns what can be a positive time, into a negative. It’s the kind of attitude that restricts my reading time. All the dishes must be done, the benches sparkling, the furniture dusted, the ironing basket empty and the dinner planned – and so on. Only then do I allow myself some unrestricted reading time – that rarely happens.

For me, books are like chocolate. I love chocolate and I love the written word – modern fiction, poetry, essays, scripture, spirituality and theology. I skim websites and read my Kindle on the train, but nothing can replace the feel and smell of a printed book. I read to escape from my everyday and into someone else’s, to find out what I’m thinking and what it means to me. Tucked away in other people’s words are insights and motivations that lead me deep into personal and unexpected possibilities and connections.

Reading opens up spaces in me, spaces where God waits in blessing and sometimes challenge. It puts me in touch with my God-given uniqueness and sometimes jolts me into recognising the compulsions that block my way to living out my God relationship. My reading, in all its variety, has become contemplative.

My Lenten practice this year is to spend more time, a lot more, re- reading books that have nurtured my spirit in the past and reading quite a few more that will inspire, nourish and free me to find God in the material of my own life. As I write these words I remember Lazarus moving stiffly out of his burial cave and Jesus saying, “Unbind him.” I’m looking forward to doing a little unbinding of myself – accompanied by the odd piece of chocolate

Judith Lynch

Click on Connexions to find a Gospel reflection for the 8th Sunday of Year A.