Reflection: October 20

Published on Oct 21st, 2019 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         I heard a rebroadcast of an interview Mary Hynes of CBC’s Tapestry did with the late John O’Donohue.  It was from some years ago, more than 15, I think.  Mary introduced it by suggesting that John’s lasting contribution to Spirituality and Christianity was his ability to weave both hope and the dire reality of some situations we face together in great poems of blessing.  I mentioned John O’Dononue this past summer when we did the worship with Celtic music.

         I’ve read a number of his poems and used them frequently in worship, in small groups and on my own.  One that I’ve heard a number of times and shared with you in worship a few times is Beannacht (pronounced bann-ochth).  It means Blessing and goes like this:

         On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
nd you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you

A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so, may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

John O’Dononue’s lasting appeal is that he presents a holistic view of humanity and creation.  He doesn’t gloss over the problems and issues that we face individually or as community.  But he also doesn’t back away from an understanding that sees God at the centre of our being, and the very heart of our being, to use Jeremiah’s language.  We need more heart language in our world and certainly in our political leaders who we are choosing tomorrow on election day.  Heart.

Jeremiah also doesn’t gloss over challenges but presents issues plainly.  He isn’t all gloom and doom.  He speaks of the days that are coming—and soon!—when a new covenant will be written on our collective hearts.  What is new in Jeremiah’s portrayal of this new Law is that it is intimately written on our hearts.  Jeremiah portrays God as intimately involved in the life of the world.  It becomes part of our inner beingness and gets lived in our outward expressions of life.  God is the God who takes our hand, who nurtures us like a mother nurtures her young, who takes us on eagle’s wings, who holds us.  Jeremiah portrays God as being intimately available, not remote and removed and only accessible via the Temple or a priest.  A new Law of love will be written on our hearts.

What law might that be?  The 10 Commandments?  The whole of the Torah given by Moses?  Well, Jeremiah’s implication is that it is the 10 Commandments and Torah and not; he doesn’t specify, really.  That’s his genius.  He tells us that God’s words will be enough, “I am yours and you are mine.”  God’s compassion will be expressed through our hearts into the world to bring the rainbow of colours of which John O’Donohue writes.

In some ways, what O’Donohue and Jeremiah get at is the teaching we receive from Jesus about persistence.  The judge, based on his own cynicism and logic, refuses to give the widow her due.  But she persists and finally the judge relents.  He gets out of his head and his logic of deep brokenness and woundedness into his heart where there is justice and hope—there must have been a glimmer left in his cynical being for judgement to be found in favour of the widow.

Part of Jesus’ question, more than just persisting in prayer and living from our heart, is, “will we keep faith?”  I remember my New Testament professor telling us that the word faith is better as a verb than as a noun.  He would ask the question from Jesus, “Will we keep faithing?”

Faith as a noun is much more cerebral.  And while using our heads isn’t a bad thing—we need to think things through often—staying in our heads can sometimes leave us stuck.  If I think it through logically enough, I’ll come to an answer.  When I took leave almost 10 years ago for depression, I talked to a counsellor; after one of our first sessions, I asked what books she’d recommend that I read.  She smiled as she looked at me and said something like, “That’s the struggle for many people; we think that we can think our way out of depression or our struggles.  We need to read and understand depression, but more importantly, we also need to feel and live from our hearts.”  That’s my paraphrase of what she said to me, and it has stuck.

Faith as a verb is something altogether different than faith as a noun; we live with our mind AND our heart.  It is as the Jewish Sh’mah that Jesus adapted says, “Love with all your heart, mind, strength and soul.”  We live as whole beings with heart and mind.  And living this way enables us to faith our way through the dark times, the downtimes, the struggle times.  In some ways, it’s like John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, used to say, something like, “Speak of faith until you live it.”  We live hope even though the world feels dark and depressing these days.  We live love even though some people are hateful and hurtful.  We live compassion even though it seems that some people are only in it for themselves.  We live trust even when we face health challenges and uncertainty.  We live our faith through hope, love, compassion and trust, and let our hearts lead the way.

Jeremiah doesn’t tell us when the new covenant will come.  Maybe it’s already here and it’s in OUR living from our heart.  Maybe it’s in Jesus’ presence of hope and peace and the stories of love and compassion that are everywhere but require the eyes of our hearts to see them and the ears of our compassion to hear them.

And so, may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.


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