Lighten Up! An Advent Resource for 2017 – Martin Stewart

Lighten Up!
An Advent Resource for 2017
Prepared by Martin Stewart

Advent in New Zealand is celebrated in summer – the season of light.

The days are at their longest, the night has to find its way in whatever gaps are left.  Summertime is also holiday time for many people thus there is a horizon through December of lighter days, less pressure, family get-togethers, and time and space to relax.

But there is a lot to get through until that space arrives, thus Advent in New Zealand is fraught with busyness, work deadlines, and pressure to get everything done, including all of the Christmas arrangements.

For most, the weeks that lead up to Christmas can have an element of being burdensome.
To what degree do we end up walking towards Christmas too heavily?
Can we make something of this season of light and more intentionally let the light in?
Is there also an invitation to the church to relax a little, to enjoy this time that reminds us of why we do what we do?

The light has come.  It has come already!  We are pointing to what the world has already been graced with.  God is with us!
It really is time to lighten up and join in with what God is doing!

Thus the theme, Lighten Up!  On Tuesday of each week through Advent I will post a resource on Candour for you to use, borrow, adapt (or ignore) the following Sunday.  It will include a bible passage, a photograph, some words, and a question for quiet reflection.
The idea is that you might invite people into a gentle reflective space at the start of weekly worship so that even our worship is entered into lightly!

Advent 1

Psalm 60:1 proclaims words of release from all that burdens us: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

Advent 2
John’s Gospel has the Baptist telling us of the one who is ‘the true light, which enlightens everyone, [and] was coming into the world.’

Advent 3
Jesus invites us into the light saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’

Advent 4

Jesus calls out to those who might listen, to let our lights shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Christmas Eve/Day
John, in his great prologue, paints the big picture…in Jesus was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  Oh we really must lighten up!

Poet and Preacher: by Maurice Andrew

Maurice Andrew seems to be enjoying a long retirement in Dunedin.  He completed his outstanding academic career as Principal at Knox College a wee while ago now

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) held a high view of the poet’s calling. It is probably expressed most directly in his poem “O tell us, poet, what you do. – I praise.” (“O sage Dichter, was du tust. Ich rühme.” ‘Rühmen’ is not the only word for ‘praise’ in German, and there is a touch of the exultant about it.)

My translation of Rilke’s poem is below, and then my interpretation of it (“Homiletics”). My interpretation makes an application to the preacher rather than to the poet. In other words, Rilke’s poem set me thinking and writing about “what the preacher does”. Continue reading

Imagination

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Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.
New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

~ John O’Donohue ~
[Excerpt from ‘For The Traveller’ in Benedictus 2007]

The Rhythm of Light’s Disappearance – Martin Stewart

The Rhythm of Light’s Disappearance

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Realise:
each month for three nights the moon disappears
a darkness comes over to envelope us

Trust:
this interval of no light has a rhythm
this time is not one to fear

Venture:
touch what comes to greet you
grasp what has dared to appear
embrace what has once been avoided

For a faith that endures is a faith that engages

Observe:
even on those nights of no moon
the moon is still there
it is only we who behave
as if the lack of reflection means an absence

Calling for Spring Prayers/Poems/Blessings

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Here is a spring image I photographed today – kowhai – springtime in Aotearoa!

Sure, we love daffodils, but in our midst, from this land, are our own gorgeous golden spring flowers that the birds come and delight in!

So… have you some words to go with the image?
Prayers, poems and blessings for the Aotearoa Spring – send them in, let’s share!

Send them in martin@villagechurch.nz
or hit the comment button

To Bless and to Curse – by Martin Stewart

I was thinking recently about some of the people I struggle with and to what degree my struggle with them is about me.  They are, of course, complete and utter idiots – whereas I am not.  Actually, they are not such things any more or less than I am, but my dismissal of them is expressed in a tone of self-righteousness .  It is a tone of cursing.
I have been reading some of John O’Donohue’s writings this year.  He has written books of blessings.  It is like he learned to see and speak in only one way, that of lifting people up and seeing the light about him and them.

I came up with these words…

Blessings & Curses
Let us be careful with our words, our thoughts, our judgements.

To bless is to lay aside any sense
that we have the right to hold anything over anyone. Continue reading

Seeing Dimly

Some thoughts on translating the gospel in our culture by Martin Stewart

It seems to me that this is a season for renegotiation with our communities.
If we conduct a wedding or a funeral, we need to attend to the fact that many of those gathered do not share the faith we speak from – some may engage with aspects of it, others will resist it… many will have a prejudicial attitude that we can either reinforce or destabilize.

It does not seem appropriate to me anymore to roll out scriptural passages or make faith statements without some attempt at translating and gently inviting people into a God-filled way of seeing.  We can no longer assume people speak or understand our language.

It is a delegate space to manoeuvre in.  The opportunities for a gospel conversation are less frequent than they once were.  We can blow it instantly by rolling out the cliches, preaching at people, and talking as if we know everything.  We have plenty of cliches, many have a long history and need to be put to bed.  We have  got good at preaching at people who expect us to behave in this manner, but they have become few in number. And, of course, we do not know everything – we only get to see through a mirror dimly – we need to be careful, open, and honest about the space between what is and what will be.

This poem emerged out of an introduction I offered at a recent funeral – the image came from the hills around Makara in Wellington.
fence

seeing dimly
we want clarity before the mysteries
but we gain barely a glimpse
a passing shadow
a leaf falling from a tree

some have practiced a life of glimpsing
exhibiting a quiet confidence
insight to what exists in the space between things
knowing enough to know

an unforced word from one of them
can be a small seed of hope
a window to a horizon
a place to set one’s foot

 

Imagination – Our Last Remembering

I wrote the following poem a few weeks ago for the funeral of a woman from the Bryndwr part of The Village Church – thus some of the specifics come from her story.  I wrote it as an imaginative exercise as I thought about the flash of memory that seems to be a common element in the experience of dying – at least that is what those who didn’t quite die tell us!

The invitation for those of us who remain, I suggest, is to accumulate memories for that final flash of memory.  Continue reading

Imagination – First Breath

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mist at kyeburn

the air in our first breath isn’t simply air
as if the air is a neutral disconnected thing
the air is an accumulation

an ancient system of to-ing and fro-ing
this molecule to that
this particle to that
from here to there
from seabed to shell
from wave to shore
from ground to plant

borne
blown
to where we find ourselves
with our first intake of breath
and every breath thereafter

connected with
all that is living
and all that has lived

all one
all now
all gift

martin stewart

Good Friday

I wrote the following poem after preparing a reflection for the Easter chapel service at St Andrew’s College.  It ended up at the end of the reflection.  I am keen to encourage poems and reflections and prayers to be part of the Candour resource.  So many of us are using our imaginations week by week and the outcome of what we develop tends to get one outing before being shelved.  I offer this by way of encouragement!  Please feel welcome to begin a conversation by sending some of your writing… martin(at)villagechurch.nz

A painting I first encountered as an 18 year old prompted me to reflect on the face of Christ and the various faces I wear and have worn.  The painting is Jesus Bearing The Cross by Hieronymus Bosch (1515 or so).  The face of Christ is of a man at peace deep within despite what is happening to him.  You can glance at it here:
https://www.google.co.nz/search?q=bosch+jesus+cross&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiiyZTIgtjLAhWSNpQKHeeWA04Q_AUIBygB&biw=1920&bih=897#imgrc=6qeufzdtKDRagM%3A

I want a face that reveals
I want a face that reveals
what is going on inside me.
It is not that I want to show off
the speed of my understanding
For most of my understandings
have taken so much time to sink in
that the face I wore at the time
I first heard any revelation
is long forgotten.

Nor is it because I am now
so happy with what is inside me
that the beauty of what lies within
will radiate all the loveliness
of my soul at peace.

No, I want a face that reveals
that fear no longer dominates.

I want a face that reveals
openness to the wind
confidence in the light
ease with my neighbour
forgiveness of those who would harm me
a posture of delight in the possibility of things…

A face so free,
that I can be courageous
even when descending into a mess.

martin stewart