We’re not particularly geared for extreme temperatures here in Wales, where I live. We literally grind to a halt. The cattle in the field across from me illustrate this grinding really well. It seems they have to consider carefully, weigh up all the odds, before moving their enormous bulks a single step in any one direction. They are not always in the shade, presumably because the effort to get there has proved too much for them, so they stand and grind the piece of grass they had grabbed a few hours ago. I feel for them in all their lethargy and heaviness. I feel also for people who, in the heat we’ve known over the past couple of days, experience a similar lethargy of spirit, the inability to hold a thought together or to proceed to anything at all, mentally as well as physically, a grinding to a halt.

I would not call this depression, although it will feed into existing depression if that is where we are at emotionally. It is simply a kind of vacant state. I usually welcome vacant states as opportunities for doing and being nothing in particular and for allowing God to simply be. But on looking back over the last couple of days, God seemed rather more muffled than usual, as if he too had ground to a halt. There was a sense of everything being held in this solid stillness, along with what is for many at such times, the struggle to simply stay alive. The elderly person being helped to drink water, the newborn baby, the soldier defending the fields of Ukraine, and the one engaged in attacking them. They are all pushing, grinding against the weight of this heat.

It is the nature of soporific heat to make us feel that it will never end, as if an irreversible dial has been turned up, even if the heat abates, as it is doing today. We were reminded only yesterday that the planet is on a new and frightening trajectory and that we have passed the tipping point in regard to climate change. There is a real sense of suffocation. It is primal, physical and to some degree emotional and spiritual, as if God can do no more for us, until, of course, a glimmer of hope appears. The breeze freshens, the dog gets up, shakes himself and ventures outside, the sky darkens and the overall mood lightens. A sign of something longer term and far more significant than the weather, a sign of salvation, perhaps.

Salvation, which literally translates as ‘life’ is not an abstraction, but a reality. It is as real as the weather. It affects us in the immediate moment; when the temperature drops a couple of degrees, in the release we experience when the weather turns cooler. It affects us in the same way in the contexts of the ordinary exchanges of daily life; in an argument avoided through restraint or humour, in a fault in oneself recognised and its effects apologised for. Salvation lies in the goodness of the moment that immediately follows. It frees us, in all these moments, from the stultifying effects of sin. It frees us from the grind that sin in all its banality makes of our lives when we do not seize on such moments and do what is necessary to restore the fragile equanimity which the world so badly needs in order to survive.

In It Together

I’ve learned through experience that when falling off a horse it’s best to get straight back on and return to the hurdle, if that’s what was the cause of the accident, or press forward, but perhaps with a slightly different approach. The same holds true, I think, with bruising social media episodes, even if the bruising was predictable.

Following on, then, from my last post, I’ve thought a lot about what to do with holy rage (both with the post itself and the feelings I describe in it), and with the reactions the post produced and how to contain them. It would be disingenuous to suggest that one shouldn’t take these reactions personally, whatever that might mean. More to the point is how we think of those friends who engage with what we say in ways that feel hostile, even if they do not intend to be read in that way, how we continue to hold them as friends.

First, I, for one, am grateful for any engagement, provided it remains considerate and fair to all those who are part of the discussion. Social media is, surprisingly, one of the few contexts where strongly held views can be expressed within the bounds of courtesy, even if those bounds get stretched a bit from time to time and courtesy is reduced to thinly veiled sarcasm. We are all human, after all.

And that brings me to the heart of the matter. How are we to care for each other in the context of such exchanges? How are we, in the context of Facebook, for example, to honour friendship in the fullest sense of that word? Opinions differ and views are passionately held. There is shouting and anger, which is often loudly derided by the angriest of those taking part in these discussions. There is war and the war does not go away the minute we turn off our computers. We are all, or perhaps only some of us, are left feeling bruised but wanting to retain the friendships if at all possible. This is not something we can do by simply throwing some kind of mental or emotional switch, or telling ourselves that we feel nothing when we in fact feel a great deal, whether these feelings pertain to the issues being debated or to the friendships that are caught up in the debate. So I think we need to allow a little inner space, a tiny crack in the window of the soul, or heart, or mind, for the air to come through, a space large enough to allow the possibility of something good, but not necessarily named, to breathe through these emotions.

Whatever this thing is, we will resist it, so it needs to take us unawares. It is not something we want for ourselves or anyone else right now, when we are feeling bruised, raw and possibly still angry with our dialogue partners on Facebook, with the issue itself, with the person who wrote about it, or with ourselves. But then we are distracted by some piece of good news, perhaps, or a mundane but welcome task. These are manifestations of that unnamed thing. They are real gifts. Two came my way yesterday. One, the news of a family member’s engagement and, the other, the news of a friend (a Facebook and real time friend, the two having become synonymous in his case) having been accepted to do a PhD. These bits of news were wholly unrelated to the emotions and issues swirling around on my Facebook page, but they opened a window.

I am hoping that something like this happened for those who took part in the discussion yesterday, that momentarily, they sensed a greater peace, something like love, invade their hearts and minds, as it did mine. I hope this, not only because we all needed it yesterday, and because the people concerned are my friends in every sense of the word, but because I think that this is the real meaning of ‘togetherness’, a word that I only touched on in my previous post.

I do not think that togetherness is generally understood in the right way. Togetherness is not some kind of pseudo-team spirit, or spurious unity in the face of dissent or disagreement. It is more about a kind of inner ‘breaking down’ of the rough bits of our hearts, the part of us that is deeply afraid of the ‘other’, a fear that is secret and known only to ourselves, if it is known at all. Perhaps in welcoming this transformative love, we shall all be able to own our private fears and realise that across the trenches of hatred, anger and plain disagreement that these fears give rise to, they amount to the same thing, that we are indeed in it together and that it is this kind of togetherness that matters most to us and on which the future and stability of our world depends.

Holy Rage

 You make the rules and then you change the game. You join the club and, because you are above simply breaking the rules, you seek to change them. Both of these courses of action would make you unpopular at school, and perhaps did, among some, but on the whole your personal aura drew people to you, as they still do. You don’t exactly have a magnetic charm. Quite the reverse in fact. There is a kind of compelling ghastliness about you, about the way you behave in public and in private and about the shoddiness of your appearance which reflects that behaviour. Unfortunately, you represent all of us, so in you, we, as a nation, experience shame.

We do not, of course, always experience it directly. Much of the time it is channelled to us through the agency of those close to you. We wonder how they can bear having to do that. We hope they do not believe in the things they do and say that cause us to feel shame, but they probably do. They appear to feel no shame whatsoever.

The shame we are experiencing here in the UK as a result of your government’s policies on refugees and hence in regard to how it places us morally in the wider global community, as it tries to manouevre its way around laws enshrined in the European Court of Human Rights, makes many of us angry. We are angry because we feel shamed. We not only feel for those caught in the effect of the game and rule changing machinations that you and your government deploy in order to maintain your grip on power, we feel it for ourselves in a quite personal way. But we are perhaps partly to blame. We are each of us paying the price for being a society that spits indifferently on its most precious asset, the freedom to dissent, protest and, if necessary, overthrow the evil in its midst. We are morally weak. Perhaps we deserve the government we are maintaining in power.

As a free society we cannot get away from the fact that we are personally responsible for that evil, in some measure at least. We may not have voted for it, but it is still here and likely to remain here like an untreated sore unless we feel sufficient outrage for the shame we are being forced to bear and the anger that goes with it.

But there is hope, and the hope lies with all of us. I am talking about the ‘God perspective’, a way of seeing things which also strengthens the collective will to the good if properly deployed. It gives licence to something more than righteous indignation, or even moral outrage. It permits, and even requires, holy rage. Holy rage is not only right, but desirable, when a people are shamed by those who govern them.

Holy rage, properly used, can wreak total destruction on the enemy and do so without shedding a drop of innocent blood, or breaking any of the laws we hold sacred; those which pertain directly to the freedom and dignity of the human person, especially to the oppressed and the vulnerable, to the expectation that vows made by the powerful to those whose lives they directly influence will be kept, along with integrity in regard to the things we say we believe in when we join an organisation or a political party.

I am not a member of the Conservative party, so perhaps it is unfair of me to say to those who are, please, please feel free to leave. This is not the time for loyalty, or for any kind of closing of ranks. Your leader has lied to you. We are not ‘in this together’, but we could be, if you show him the exit door by foregoing all further allegiance to him or to those who support him. It is the time for holy rage and you, of all people, must lead the way in deploying it.

Graced Conversation

The best conversations begin in the ordinariness of a moment. A table conversation, even among people who know each other well, will often take time to get going. There are silences, some of them appreciative of the food or the surroundings. Some of them comfortable, as those that take for granted the basic trust that exists between all parties present. Others less comfortable, when the trust isn’t completely there, or there is an awkwardness of some kind begging for a distraction from this precise moment. A child or a dog sometimes comes in useful in such situations. They break the silence and diffuse the attention. When this kind of silence breaker is allowed free reign it can take over the meal and render conversation meaningless or simply impossible. But sometimes, perhaps with the help of a glass of credible rioja, the silence is transformed by a chance remark or question that brings out the best in one, or all, of the parties present.

Apart from gossip, which can only take a conversation so far before everyone relapses into either boredom or guilty silence, there are only two topics that stand a chance of sustaining good conversation: politics and God. I could add a third: the Church – which encompasses both politics and God in equal measure. We had one of these conversations last night. It took a while to get going and only really did so as a result of a deliberately ‘planted’ question having to do with how long one of us thought Boris Johnson was going to last.

The conversation began with “So”, as such conversations often do. But Johnson’s projected political longevity, along with that of his cronies, did not take us very far. We moved on pretty quickly to humanity’s capacity for goodness, or its opposite, and from there to how the individual is, or is not, in control of all their decisions and capable of achieving the best by himself or herself without any outside intervention or help. This was the theologian’s opportunity to get in there with, it must be admitted, something of a Machiavellian intent. We were really talking about Pelagianism, that old and very English heresy, re-enshrined in English society by Margaret Thatcher. We make good only through our own efforts. We pull ourselves up by our boot strings and get on with it. We are in control.

We agreed that there is good in most people, even the worst. Jean Valjean, the hero of ‘Les Misérables’ served as a classic example of the transformation of evil into goodness in the heart of a person whose life had been given over to crime. The sticking point for one of us was how this transformation is, or was, effected. The answer, to my way of thinking, was ‘through grace’. At this point it was tempting to jump straight in with talk of prevenient grace, that divine goodness that lies latent in the heart of every human being, but to say that would have been too direct a way of speaking. It was important to find other more comprehensive ways of talking about this vitally important subject without losing track of it altogether. It was difficult to know what to say and when to say it. But one thing some of us were certain of is that we wanted this reality-concept of grace to not only be understood by the other person at the table but ‘realised’ in every sense of the word.

At one point, or perhaps just before the conversation got under way, our neighbour’s sheep strayed into our field, so two of us had to leave the table and try to corral them into the field next door before they did terminal damage to our newly planted flowers and trees in tubs. Were we later trying to corral our conversation partner? Perhaps. Was this justified? Perhaps. We wanted him to know his own prevenient grace and that he did not need to work at it or earn it. We wanted him to know it was already there for the asking, but it would have been mad to say that, since the idea that grace might be a freely given gift from a loving God, especially as God is understood in Judeo-Christian terms, was anathema to our conversation partner.  The Church, he claimed (possibly rightly), was a construct, along with other organised religions. The difficulty for the rest of us lay in not letting him hide behind the sins of institutionalised religion as a means of evading this reality of the free gift of grace from a loving God.

The sheep, minutes before, had been hiding behind the cars in order to evade our amateur shepherding efforts. They succeeded in the end. But that is where the similarity between the sheep situation and ours ends. Good conversations do not end with one person or group triumphing over the other, having corralled the other into submission, having had the last word, proving something, or escaping the real issue under discussion. They end with renewed understanding distributed in equal measure between all the parties involved, as happened last night. They prepare the way for more conversations. I would call this the activity of grace.

Leadership And The Monarchy

If Boris Johnson is done for, as some predict, what will we have learned? Or will we choose not to reflect and learn at all, but simply wait for the next posh rabble rouser to come along and claim his or her place? I rather suspect the latter, since the British public does not, on the whole, go in for considering the longer-term implications of personality-driven politics.  But perhaps this weekend’s celebrations, for all their jingoism, and the fluffed-up version of the fifties that has provided a backdrop for them (the fifties were bleak times to be growing up in), have reminded us all of what leadership is really about.

At the centre of these, at times rather forced, celebrations is a woman whose steadfast love, promised to her people on the day of her Coronation, has remained constant and unwavering. I would be surprised if this love always depended on subjective feelings. Feelings, and what her generation thought of as duty, do not go together, which is perhaps why the concept of duty feels so alien to people today. Duty has to do with faithfulness. But faithfulness depends on love, especially in regard to leadership.

Leadership is, on the whole, a very overblown subject, mainly because those of us who are privileged to live in a free democratic society are not, or should not be, people who are happy to simply be led. If we are to have leaders, then, they need to be people who remind us of our better selves and do so in a way which is consistent and truthful, a constant reminder of what we are all called to be and are capable of becoming.

In the quiet steadfast leadership of our monarch we have had this shown to us for seven decades. We could have learned something from it. We could have learned, for example, that loving service is at its best when it is accompanied by very few words. It does not need to promote itself. It simply is itself in the gracious demeanour of this particular sovereign. Some may not like the idea of a monarchy at all. As an institution it speaks of privilege and suggests power, although it has very little of the latter. It is an anachronism at best, but to do away with it would be to lay ourselves open to the pseudo-leadership that is all most of our politicians are capable of mustering. A president, elected or not, would make us vulnerable to the ego-driven hubris of a Donald Trump and to more of what we have now in such people as Boris Johnson.

Institutions too often fall short of what they are designed to be for, in terms of their benefit to society, but occasionally an individual will emerge from within them who makes us glad we have them. There will be an occasional Rowan Williams or Desomond Tutu in the institutional Church. And there will be monarchs who endure and who, as leaders, remind us that we need to take responsibility for ourselves and for the democratic freedoms we have, despite, or perhaps because of, a constitution of ‘convention’ which is somehow kept safe within this time-honoured monarchy. Ultimately, it is the trust we invest in the monarchy that may be the saving of us once Johnson has gone, whoever replaces him.

Mikhail Khodarenok – The ‘What If?’ Question

It is reported by the BBC[1] that a senior Russian military figure, Mikhail Khodarenok, a military analyst and retired colonel has, on a highly viewed programme on State owned Russian television, declared that Russia’s ‘special military operation’ is, to put it bluntly, a disaster. Furthermore, he warns that “the situation [for Russia] will clearly get worse” owing in great part to the Ukranian army’s “high idealism, its high morale and its willingness to shed blood to defend its nation.” But, he adds, the biggest problem is one of political isolation. “The whole world is against us” he adds, “even if we don’t want to admit it. We need to resolve this situation.”

It would be easy to put all this down to a preliminary face-saving ploy, on the part of the Russians, preparing the ground for some kind of a deal that would blur the reality of its invasion of Ukraine, allowing the war to be gently forgotten in time, so that the Russians can return to the charge at some future date. ‘Reculer pour mieux sauter’, as the French say. Perhaps Khodarenok is being played. Time, and his personal fate, will tell.

Meanwhile, I would like to posit the ‘what if?’ question. What if, for example, the top brass are beginning to see the need to cut their losses and save face by appearing all of a sudden to come to their senses in this whole ghastly business. Perhaps that would be out of character. All the same, wisdom has a way of hiding itself, a little like Satan, until ‘an opportune time’. So it would be easy to mistake the good for the evil – and vice versa. But this courageous ‘outing’ of the reality of the situation, by a highly placed military figure, demands something by way of reaction, if not of response, from the rest of us. How are we to react to it?

It would be easy, and perhaps prudent, to take the cynical hard line, to remain entirely objective, detached from the humanity of this strange situation. But the retired Colonel has a human face, whoever he believes he is speaking for – and to. Is he sending a clear message to the West, along the lines of “We’d like to get down now please, but we need a hand with the ladder”. Or is he under orders from Putin to put up some kind of a smoke screen to distract us from far more nefarious intentions? If not, and he needs help with the ladder, how might that allow for what used to be called compunction? Compunction is a prelude to repentance. Might the Colonel’s statement be interpreted as one of compunction?

Compunction begins with the realisation that we have ‘messed up’. It is a stand-alone thing, because it expects nothing of anyone, knowing itself to be undeserving. It is a facing into the cold reality of whatever evil or folly has been perpetrated. What follows is repentance. Repentance needs the assistance of those who have been wronged, if it is to be effected at all. Compunction is just a start. Of course, the question of whether or not to allow the ladder to be proffered so that repentance might be within reach (ie without too much loss of face) is, on the basis of the colonel’s declaration, primarily for the Ukranians to decide. It is a risk, given that so far they have not been given too many reasons for believing in the integrity of such statements and intentions.

But there is one other means available. Perhaps the time has come for a focusing of prayer on the enemy. By that I mean the focusing of a certain kind of energy which derives from grace. I have heard it said that God favours the Ukrainians because they treat the dead Russian soldiers with as much dignity as they can. They try, where possible, to contact families and invite them to come to collect their dead sons, brothers or husbands. This is graced action and even, you might say, a gracious way of doing war. It shows that there is a possibility for the light to shine in the darkness, for unimaginable goodness to come from the least likely source.

One such unlikely source might be a retired Russian Colonel, who is also a military analyst, speaking the truth. Truth is energy. It is the energy which ‘converts’, which sparks the compunction that can lead to repentance. It is the ‘engine’ of prayer. The Churches need to focus that energy and direct it more intensely towards the enemy we are all facing. In doing this lies, perhaps, our only hope.

[1] News 17th May, 2022

Roe v. Wade – What Would Jesus Do?

Back in the 70’s and 80’s there were Christians who wore a wrist band with the letters WWJD, standing for ‘What would Jesus Do?’ I never wore such an ornament, but the words and the sentiment return in a most insistent way in regard to renewed eruptions of anger over abortion in the US, specifically the leak of a possible overturning of the Roe v. Wade bill which permits abortion up until foetal viability. Once again, the lines of battle have been clearly drawn and there are human casualties on both sides, something which few people seem prepared to talk about.

The battle is, of course, part of a far bigger war, a war of political extremes that has been building over the past couple of decades in America, fuelled by violent rhetoric on and off social media, and resourced from within a climate of deep and growing distrust of the kind of freedom enshrined in the law of the land, especially as it pertains to this highly emotive issue. The freedom that is being placed under ever increasing strain by the climate of political extremism, now spreading in the West, rests on a complementarity of autonomy and responsibility in regard to the human person. When it comes to WJJD, I think Jesus would have agreed with this basic line of thinking.

But it is also quite vague. We have to decide, as we do with other defining issues, what it is that diminishes or destroys the human person. Again, the WJJD motif comes to mind. Jesus placed the valuing and honouring of the human person next in importance to the honouring of God.  The anti-abortion movement will seize on this and claim exclusive right to their understanding of what is entailed in the honouring of the human person (which is often indiscriminately conflated with the honouring of God), specifically the unborn human being, even if that entity is not yet viable as an autonomous person.

I would like to question their readiness to lay claim to the moral high ground here, not because I believe abortion to be desirable and right in all circumstances. I don’t, and neither would Jesus. Neither do I believe that the glibly termed ‘pro-abortion’ position should rest entirely on a woman’s right to manage her own body, even if this is a crucial element of that argument.

I do believe, however, that there is a certain threshold that no one has the right to cross. It is the inalienable right of a woman to decide for herself what she and God understand together to be the truth and reality of her particular set of circumstances. God honours her in this moment of understanding and in the choice she makes, and so should we.

I would dare to suggest that even if she is an atheist, there will be something in her humanity that invites her to seek out the truth and, most especially, something like the mercy of God in regard to her probably traumatic pregnancy, as well as the trauma she will experience if she chooses to have an abortion. She needs to be confident of that mercy, the mercy of God which is concomitant with God’s righteousness and thereby with God’s justice.

In regard to Divine justice, think only of the story of the woman ‘taken in adultery’ (John 8:1-11). Which of us is ‘without sin’ when it comes to making choices that do not sit comfortably with our declared faith or set of beliefs? Since mercy, righteousness and justice are all three attributes of God’s nature, we should defer to that woman in her choice as an autonomous human person who is honoured in God’s sight, a God who sees the reality of her situation in ways which many people might not. She needs our mercy too. She will live with the memory of that pregnancy, the choice she makes, and possibly all future choices, for the whole of her life.  

Nuclear Sunday

‘LISTEN: Nuclear weapons don’t prevent war. What they do is create risks that any conflict can escalate into a nuclear one — by mistake, miscalculation, or madness. Disarmament isn’t a utopian quest. It’s about getting these things off the board before the next crisis erupts.’  So runs a tweet that is doing the rounds right now.

Hold on to this stark warning as you wait with the terrified disciples in the upper room shortly after they have been told of Christ’s rising from the dead. It is not clear at first whether they are more afraid of seeing a ghost or of the reality of the truth itself.

I say bring the nuclear weapons threat into that room because I think fear is essentially the same anarchic (in terms of its consequences) emotion, wherever you experience it and irrespective of its immediate cause.

 The best way to deal with fear is to ground it in reality, in common sense. In the case of the risen Christ, the doubting disciple is invited to touch him, to place his hand on Christ’s risen body – and it is a body. It is a reality. When it becomes clear to him that what he is seeing and touching is a reality which is beyond all of their wildest hopes, his instinct is to worship, while the others are filled with joy. Not happiness, but a deep, confident joy. This is what Easter is about. Worship and joy.

Now go back to the stark warning in regard to nuclear weapons. Unlike the Resurrection, which needed to be willed or effected by God himself, and no one else, for it to happen, weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear, chemical or anything else the human race is capable of dreaming up, are entirely a matter of human choice. So the stark choice facing us all, without exception, in regard to these weapons, is between life and death. Each one of us must take responsibility for them. Each one of us must own the fact that we have the power to effect life or death, not just life now, or the death of a few people, but life for aeons to come and death that could be universal, a death without limits or boundaries.

What happens, then, when we face the stark reality of this choice, in the context of Easter and in that upper room?  Or, better put, what could happen?

If we allow these two imponderables, the truth of the risen Christ and the reality of nuclear war, into the same space, something has to give. That is why I use the word ‘allow’. When it comes to nuclear holocaust, it is tempting to give in to feelings of powerlessness, or of feeling overwhelmed. The last thing we want to do, faced with this ultimate reality, is allow something to happen, to take a risk in the name of what is left of the goodness of humanity, and of the earth itself, to take a risk in the name of what is worth saving.

This is where the worship comes in. No single individual can guarantee a trajectory away from the threat of nuclear weapons, as it is so vividly depicted in the tweet I just quoted. But each one of us can surrender to the greater reality of God, the God we see and who the disciples touched and later shared a meal with, after he had risen from the dead.  This is the worship and this is the joy. We all have a part to play in it. There is no time to spare for futile discussions about the validity or worth of what we are trying to give voice to in our reaching for the life promised us in him. We simply have to reach, and surrender, before madness overtakes us and it is too late.

Holy Week: Good Friday

There are flowers along the way, yellow celandines, and the small insects of early Spring. These leave him, but the flies stay. They cling to his bloodied face as he staggers up the hill and then as he hangs there, a minor irritation, but all the greater for that.

Swimming in and out of consciousness, even as he staggers under the weight of his own gallows, faces appear. Some from the past, imagined or dreamed. Others from the immediate present. The curious, the indifferent, the vaguely grateful that this time it is not them or someone they know – goodness knows they can think of some who ought to be there. The angry. The disappointed.

He sees the face and hears the voice of one far off in the future, whose child’s cancer treatment has failed. Another whose life had been stunted by a parent’s selfishness or envy. These are the silent bitter faces.  They have no words for what they are feeling. Even so, they sense in this tortured man one who takes what they can neither bear nor explain. Later, they will go down that same hill, beating their breasts, not in remorse but in a kind of release, a soulagement. They will accept themselves. They will accept the memories.  They will have permission to forgive.

For the moment he hangs there, exposed for all time. Not beautiful. Supremely at one with the wrecked and the ruined, with the obese, the bulimic, the addict and the drunk. At one with the wrecker of lives. He is atoning.

He must summon everything he has in order to take the next breath. His life is his own, to hold to for a little longer until the time comes for surrendering it. He is in control. Religion swims into his consciousness, and the sins that will be committed in his name. The power games. The abuse. The control.

All this is offset by the waking nightmare of death as the end of life’s brutal, short and pointless trajectory. There is nothing at the end of it all. People are snuffed out into non-being. He enters the despair of future humanity’s cynicism, its disdain for the holy and into its most visceral fear, the fear of oblivion. He is in the body and out of it. He longs for oblivion. He atones.

 In the midst of these mental meanderings someone speaks of punishment, the man on his left and right are talking over him. There is an incongruous association with other moments of being talked across, of being ignored. He witnesses countless suppressed or interrupted conversations that might have changed lives but were not valued, because the person being talked across, or interrupted, was not valued.

 His forward-thinking memory, causes the past, present and future to meld into the moment. His mind swerves towards the cross-generational hatreds to be spawned in future wars. Whole peoples cut across, lives interrupted, entire nations displaced, ignored, whose people become the detritus, the unwanted packaging of human progress. He embraces their despair. Why have they been forsaken? Why is he forsaken? The two questions are the same.

Half in delirium he loses track of reason. He cries out in desolation. He thirsts. It is accomplished.

Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

The last meal. It ends with a ritual which by its very strangeness is key to our understanding of what Holy Week is about. Jesus washes the feet of his friends at the end of his last meal with them, rather than in the moment they step through the door, as would have been customary. So, assuming a slave or servant had already done the preliminary washing, the feet would have been clean. What, then, does Jesus mean when he says that ‘not all of you are clean’? The usual assumption is that he’s talking about Judas, but I think there’s more to it than that. I think he’s inviting us to forget about outward appearances and focus instead on those aspects of ourselves, our hidden selves, that, like Peter, we would prefer Jesus not to see, let alone wash.

Peter does not initially understand the wider implications of this nuanced moment, but he trusts enough in his Lord that there is something more that he needs and that it has something to do with the washing of his feet, possibly for the second time, so he acquiesces and, in that moment, begins his own personal journey of healing and renewal.

Even so, he will fall asleep an hour or so later, while Jesus wrestles in prayer with temptations too mighty for Peter to begin to understand. Peter will run away. He will deny he ever knew his Lord, but he will not despair. Instead, and perhaps only just in time, he will recall his own words, asking for the whole of him to be washed, and not just his feet.

He will also recall the flash of recognition that passed between him and Jesus in that moment, the recognition of a love that is there to stay, that cannot be defeated by Peter’s cowardice, or by any of our all too human failures when we are put to the test, even in the smallest of things.

The washing of the disciples’ feet is the point on which the Passion narrative turns. It turns on a tiny, barely noticeable, exchange. There passes between Jesus and Peter in that moment of drawing away, of Peter’s fear of exposure, a slightly querulous, humorous look. It is the look we catch when we protest that our failings and shortcomings, however small, or however large, are beyond the reach of a God who comes to serve the least of those who truly love him.

Even so, when we are tired, run down and at a loss for words, or for what to think in the context of the various crises the world is having to deal with right now, talk of love seems superfluous almost to the point of irrelevance. But it is the love that Peter experiences in the confusion of this slightly embarrassing moment that we hold to, not only for ourselves in whatever mental or spiritual state we happen to be in, but for a world which right now seems to be spiralling out of control, out of God’s reach. Our will to hold it in the look of love exchanged in that moment of foot washing is, perhaps, its only hope.

%d bloggers like this: