Grief work: for when the Spirit is black – by Steve Taylor

adult art conceptual dark

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A few weeks ago I posted a condolence card to a friend. Looming was the one-year anniversary of the death of her mother. A year on – after the funeral, after the mourners and well-wishers have left and the condolence meals in the freezer are eaten – one-year anniversaries can be a void and a card seemed a practical way to express care and concern.

The condolence card I chose to send depicted an image from The Saint John’s Bible. This Bible is a remarkable achievement – the first handwritten Bible since the invention of the printing press around 1450. St John’s Abbey and University, in Minnesota, commissioned renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson, to handwrite using turkey, goose and swan quill, natural handmade inks and hand-ground pigments on calfskin vellum. The result is monumental, standing two feet tall and three feet wide when opened, with over 1,100 pages and 160 illuminations. While the complete Bible sits at the University, reproductions of various illuminations are available, including as gift cards.

This particular card offered a full-page artistic illumination of the story of Genesis 1. It’s not easy finding words for someone in grief… so I paused, avoiding the void, only to be struck as I pondered the illumination. My eyes began with the dominant colours: blues and greens depicting the colours of earth, sea, sky being made. Next the gold leaf illumination referencing the stars, moon and daylight pouring forth speech: showing the ordering of time. Finally, hovering over the unfolding of creation was a bird, depicting the Spirit, etched in black.

Colours matter and the Spirit is usually portrayed as white. Most of the baptism art that references Jesus being baptised has the Spirit descending like a bird etched in white. Doves are white. Missiologist Kirsteen Kim notes that in Christianity the “dove is very white”. Colours matter and Kim observes that this white dove sometimes “looks like the fat turkey of consumerism or the eagle of empire”. (Kim, The Holy Spirit in the World, 2007, 180) She is uneasy with the Spirit depicted as white. Instead she suggests that because colours matter, the Spirit should be rainbow coloured – “a multi-coloured fire-bird” – that radiates the colours of creation in all its brilliance and varied hues (180).

Artists choose colours with great care. The St John’s Bible involved constant dialogue between Donald Gordon and the Biblical scholars. This included a weekly gathering of scholars and theologians to develop the theological content behind the illuminations. Most are priests in the order of Saint Benedictine, who live by a simple rule: “listen … with the ear of your heart”. This is an approach to Scriptures that has guided Benedictine communities in shared spiritual practice for over 1500 years.

“Listen with the ear of your heart” guided Donald Gordon as he began to depict the Bible’s opening story… in which the Spirit is black.

Opening the condolence card, I slowly found words. Listening with the ear of my heart, I began to connect the Spirit in black with the dark tunnel of grief: in the beginning… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1.2 NRSV).

Wherever there is unformed chaos, there is the Spirit.

Wherever there is a void, there is the Spirit, swooping to offer divine strength.

Wherever there is creation not yet flourishing, there is the Spirit, soaring in the offer of divine hope.

This is how the Spirit is portrayed in Romans. The Spirit raised Jesus from the dead, present in the void (Romans 8.11). The Spirit intercedes, groaning with the whole of creation in the pain of labour (Romans 8:22). The Spirit shares in solidarity, longing to soar not with those who soar strong, but with those who are weak (Romans 8.26).

The card was posted and a few days later, the friend messaged, thanking me for the words. And noting the date: March 15, 2019.

A day that will be forever etched in the New Zealand soul as one of our nation’s darkest days. A day of wrenching void for the families of those who lost their loved ones’ in the mosque shootings in Christchurch. A day of unformed chaos for the first responders. A day in which we saw a glimpse of how far New Zealand is from the flourishing of all creation imagined in Genesis 1 and Romans 8.

In Presbyterian history, the Spirit has been a source of controversy. For some, the
Spirit is the forgotten person of the Trinity. For others, the Spirit is for personal sanctification or the agent of charismatic giftedness. In each case, theological attention is focused on the individual and the Christian, on the life of faith inside the Christian story.

But as Genesis 1 and Romans 8 remind us, the Spirit is in the world. She soars in unformed places of chaos and the void of death. Maybe in the months following the tragedy in Christchurch, we as a Church will need to listen (afresh) with the ear of our heart, to our wider world in which the Spirit, depicted in black, hovers in grief.

Where was God on March 15, 2019? In the presence of the Spirit, hovering over the chaos, groaning with all those in pain, empowering all those who work for justice.

The wounds of Christchurch will be the grief work of our nation for years to come, as we contemplate the painful void that is racism, xenophobia and fear of difference. Thankfully we are not alone, for the Spirit is black.

‘The Cosmic Christ’ – Ecological Christianity by Bob Eyles

“The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19 NRSV)

planting treeIt seems to me that we have come to a crisis in the life of the Church and of the world. For the Roman world, a similar crisis was met by the Christ event as the life, death and resurrection of Jesus released new energy and insights that sent an emerging Christianity around the planet. The parable of “the last judgement” in Matthew 25, for example, has inspired countless people with the realisation that the risen Christ can be seen in the faces of poor and disadvantaged people. Continue reading

Messiahs and Scapegoats: a reflection on discipleship and community – by Bruce Hamill

Those in leadership realise at some point – usually early on (especially if it’s informal leadership) – that the human desire for a messiah is profound and universal. We don’t like to admit this drive to find ourselves a Messiah. We have made an absolute value of our situation as individuals and treat it as a cosmic necessity. Not only do we think we are islands, but we believe we have a duty to preserve this insularity at the core of our being. Continue reading

A Church in and for the South Pacific – by Jordan Redding

Redding

A piece of street art in Pape’ete, based on Paul Gaugain’s famous Woman and Fruit. Gaugain was a French artist famous for going to Tahiti and painting an idealised view of life there. This piece of art challenges the underlying worldview of Gaugain and the West more generally and asks questions of the future identity of South Pacific nations.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity, along with Rev Dr Tokerau Joseph to represent our Church at a Council for World Mission event in Pape’ete, Tahiti. The purpose of the gathering was to participate in a series of “street” bible studies that addressed mission, racism and colonisation in the South Pacific in relation to biblical texts.[1] We were very generously hosted by the Maohi Protestant Church, Etaretia Protetani Maohi (EPM). The studies explored a number of themes including the complicity of the London Missionary Society in the global slave trade; French nuclear testing in the South Pacific; and the reclamation of local indigenous identity and theologies.

Upon my return a friend jokingly remarked that I’m turning into a bit of an ecclesiastical junkie, meaning someone who takes advantage of available funding to go from ecumenical event to ecumenical event in order to see the world. He wasn’t serious, of course. And I’m increasingly aware of the carbon footprint associated with such trips. It raises the question though, why should the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand – our Church – continue to place emphasis on ecumenical relations and interdenominational mission? Can we justify the resource and environmental impact associated with these gatherings? And what do they really achieve anyway? Continue reading

The Enemy Without – The Enemy Within by Geoff New

The other week, I was contacted by a minister. He was preaching a sermon series and wanted to revisit a lecture I had given when he had been an intern. The lecture had been on addiction focusing particularly on online pornography. He contacted me to refresh his memory and to discuss the nature and effect of online pornography.

That was the stated purpose.

However, by the end of the conversation I was struck by what I heard myself saying. It is hard to explain – but it was as if I was listening in as an observer. I was saying the words but the intensity with which I was speaking; the depth of feeling that was expressed; the statistics I heard myself quote; the effects I heard myself articulate – well – I didn’t know I felt that deeply about the issue.

I realised then how deeply concerned I am. Really concerned. Continue reading

funeral poems

I’ve been inspired to write a couple of poems .  Two people in the church died recently, both were elderly.  The first received a sense of his mother ‘visiting’ him on the day he died – he was most surprised.  The second had been a choir singer and the blessing I gave at the end of the service picked up on a way of seeing her free of the pain and experiencing those moments musicians sometimes have when they become at one with the notes.  I picture Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as his reaching into the communion of the Triune God and hearing something that he could then translate.

the collection

this woman
who birthed me
came
at the end

to collect me

as if
there had never been
a separation

as if
death was not the wall
I had always thought
it was

as if
when it comes
time for me
to let
out
my
last
breath
those who have been
are welcoming me

as if
what will be
and what has been
meet
to join hands
in the circle
of my
now

now,
if you
command
the science
of this

if you
demand
the science
of this

if you
insist on
the science
of this

don’t ask me
don’t ask me

for I suspect
or even know
what you
‘discover’
in the asking

will
only
take
this
woman
away
from
me

the song

picture her
positioning herself
against the pain
straightening her back
one last time

observe her
listening for the song
this ode to joy
finding her part
entering on the eighth bar*

lean in close
hear her singing
first as admirer playing catch-up
but in no time at all
becoming alive in the notes
traversing that fleeting space
between last breath and first

* eight/waru – resurrection day

Homegrown resourcing to kick-start 2019 – Jose Reader

analysis blackboard board bubble

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As you contemplate the New Year, you might be on the hunt for fresh inspiration in your ministry, so we’ve compiled some resources that might be just what you’re looking for…

Conversations

This website, developed by Presbyterian minister, Silvia Purdie, provides resources for faith and life. On this easy-to-use website, resources are categorised by use (baptism, funeral etc) and season, so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. See what is on offer: http://www.conversations.net.nz/ Continue reading

Encouragement & a prayer – Martin Stewart

I’m very conscious of demands that Christmas brings on ministers and their families in this festive season.  I’m currently preparing for Christmas #29 as a minister.  It should have been #30 but I skived off one time making the most of the opportunity that a shift between parish ministries gave me!
I know we all like to be creative and fresh each Christmas but the simple reality is that we are coming to the year’s end and most of us are catching a sniff of holidays looming close… so we box on, stagger, or limp towards 11am on Christmas Day, and often present ourselves to our families as tired wrecks…  Every now and then I wish Jesus was born in September! Continue reading

Universal anxiety and Psalm 139 – Hyeeun Kim

This is a shortened version of the sermon, Dr Hyeeun Kim, adjunct lecturer, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and lecturer at Laidlaw College, gave at the recent graduation service of Knox graduates.

belief bible book business

Have you ever woken up 2am in the morning and panicked about something that was not going well, especially, a mistake that you’d made? If yes, you have experienced universal anxiety.

Universal anxiety is based on a common belief: “If they know all of me, they won’t like me”. We all live with it at some stage of our lives. Those people who come from more challenging backgrounds, tend to have it more intensely: “If they know all of me, they will look down on me, laugh at me, hate me, reject me, humiliate me or condemn me”. Because of this anxiety, we often hide some truth about who we are and pretend something we are not, so that we can be accepted. Continue reading

Engaging with charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity today – Kevin Ward

group of people raising hands silhouette photography

In this article by Kevin Ward, senior lecturer at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Kevin discusses his realisation that re-engaging with the charismatic movement is critical for our future as a Church. Find out why.

We are all only too aware of the explosive growth of charismatic and Pentecostal churches in New Zealand and elsewhere since the 1960s, and the decline of most other forms of church since the 1960s. The 60s have been called the “expressive revolution” which lead to the significant culture changes that came to be labelled post-modernity in the 1990s. This can be seen as “the recovery of the experiential to complement the cerebral”. Continue reading