March 1999: Lent eucharist
[the theme of the service is the need for space in our lives, to recover ourselves, take stock of who we are, where we are, and what we need to be more whole, and how lent might be a season for doing this before god]
the theme of this service is space
not the final frontier or space 1999
but personal space, psychological space, quiet space
space to grow big again
to recover our true shape
space where no demands are made
something i've struggled with is a sense that god wants to push and pull me about, that if i open up to god he will immediately start making huge demands - because it's drummed into us in church that we need to change, that we need to let god change us - and we do need to let god change us, but the mental images we have of change tend to be about as appealing as being told you have to have a major operation!
last year i was working for an american multinational engineering firm much in love with management theory and systems, and we had to suffer all the jargon and they were always talking about challenge, are you being challenged in your work - but the work was very stressful, and one sunday i went to church needing to find some peace and space and the vicar started to talk about how we need to be challenged in worship, and i'm like "no! please! i've come to church to spend some time with god away from all that - if church is challenging and demanding, where do i turn to for rest?
i think this approach to christianity as something that should be demanding and worked hard at can be profoundly damaging in a world where so many suffer from overwork and low self-esteem. i suspect that many of us hunger for spaces where we can recover our shape, get the feeling back in bits of our personalities that had gone numb with cramp, perhaps explore parts of ourselves that we barely knew existed because they were not allowed room to exist in our everyday lives.
i hope that in tonight's service we can all find a bit of that space.
[Someone else, on theme of service]
lamentation/confession from printed liturgy
short talk leading into time of meditation:
one thing i find is that the busyness and pressures of life cause me to leak identity, to gradually lose my sense of who i am, and i need to spend time with god to restore it, away from the masks i have to wear elsewhere.
God is the fount of all true identity. If we have real identities, as opposed to the identities constructed and deconstructed by the world around us, then they are to be found with god who knows who we really are and who we could and should be. if identity is found through relationship, then it's our relationship with god that ultimately determines who we are.
but i think it's hard for most of us to accept that god gives us identity, because we generally see god as the constrainer of identity, always saying 'thou shalt not', always limiting the options, always snipping off the buds before they have time to flower, pruning us into a nice drab green bush and still calling it a garden.
of course a lot of this is down to the church, god's enthusiastic gardening assistant, snipping off the flowers for our own good, in case they should turn out to be weeds which might offend god the next time he takes a turn in the garden. it's a distorted spirituality but it haunts a lot of us, and it's the strongest impression that the church has made on the non-christian world - that christians don't and can't have any fun, that to be a christian means giving things up all the time, a permanent state of lent, without ever getting to easter.
perhaps we have never understood well enough that the purpose of renunciation is to clear room for new things to grow. it's like a gardener cutting back overgrown bushes to make a clearing where new plants can grow towards the sun. maybe the seeds were there in the ground all the time, but couldn't germinate; or maybe the gardener put new seeds or plants in the space cleared.
either way, lent might be a clearing of undergrowth to allow the sun and the rain to touch the soil of our being and tempt the dormant seeds out of hiding.
lent might be a time, not of empty renunciations, but of reassessment, of taking stock, of spring cleaning, of taking our bearings and mapping out the next stage of the journey. lent might be a time, when we remember who we are underneath the things that society piles on top of us like coats on the bed at a party.
perhaps lent can be a time of clearing space in our lives so that we can see the realities of our situation, who we are, what we really need, what our relationship with god is like and what god is up to.
and god waits for us,
not like a lion ready to pounce if we let our guard down
and not like an interfering mother-in-law
but like an old friend who's seen it all before and likes us anyway
and with whom we can spend time without having to pretend or explain.
let's hear a reading from 1 corinthians 13:
[another voice] love is patient, love is kind. it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. love never fails.
we are usually encouraged to read these words as a challenge to ourselves, a goal to strive for. we are seldom encouraged to dwell on these words as a description of the character of god. let's hear them again:
[another voice] god is patient, god is kind. god does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. god is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs. god does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. god always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. god never fails.
i'm going to give out some pieces of paper now, and on each sheet there is this altered quote we've just heard, and a picture of a clearing in undergrowth. i'd like us all to spend some time contemplating the words, and if you want, write in the clearing anything you think you need to grow, and in the undergrowth anything you think you need to cut back. we're going to give this some time so relax and take your time.
lift up your hearts [Jonny]
from: we bless you high king of all creation. through your goodness we have this bread and wine to offer...[Steve P]
lord god, guardian of the wild spaces,
of feasts on mountaintops and flasks of tea in snow,
of cagouled cloudy beaches and headlights at midnight on the motorway,
thankyou that we find in the bread and the wine a space to be with you.
throw us the compass of who we are and whose we are
let your hope be a big sky within us
let your presence be sand in our pockets
blessing from printed liturgy