Emerging into new life. What sort of prayer will you be?
Easter Day – Wesley Uniting Church
1 April 2018
This week, even as we gave ourselves fully to Holy Week’s sorrow and the story of Jesus’ death, Ockert and I each had part of our minds on the resurrection. That is our experience of Lent as a church, isn’t it, we know how the story ‘ends’.
I have started reading a poem a day at breakfast, and one morning this week, with that part of my mind on resurrection particularly alert, this was the poem I read.
First Happenings. by Mary Oliver. [not reproduced online in full]
A morning-glory morning with its usual glory,
petunias in the garden flashing their
tender signals of gratitude. ...
the sweet alyssum nod to
the roses who so very politely nod back.
... the fluttering petals, little
fires. Each one fresh and almost but not quite
Consider wearing such a satisfying body!
Consider being, with your entire self, such
a quiet prayer!
Consider being, with your entire self, such a quiet prayer! Like the flowers in the garden, we are coming to life, to new life, as people of the resurrection, people of this relationship with God through Christ, emerging from the story of Lent into the story of Easter.
What flower are you, as you unfold into your new life?
What kind of prayer will you be?
Like me, you may not be so well versed in all the finite properties of particular flowers – the often blooming, the long lasting, the rare, the winter, the autumn …
So let’s think simply. What colour flower will you be? Are you bold and bright? Are you pastel? Are you white?
What shape will you be? Round, oval, spiky; will you have a flurry of petals, or a few? Many buds to a stalk, or only one?
What size will you be? Low to the ground and petite; tall and singular; broad and wide on a bush or ground cover; high on a tree?
Will you have leaves? Grey, silver, some shad of green?
Can you see your flower? What sort of prayer does it seem to be?
What sort of prayer will your life be?
Mary Oliver’s poem evoked for me a picture of a garden of diverse prayers. Of life unfurling in response to the sun, life that is pure gratitude for the very gift of being alive. I saw Mary, unfurling back towards life, as she encountered the resurrected Christ.
Now, every flower knows death and dying; some experience drought or flood, frost or fire; weeds may strangle, pests and sickness can harm them. So we know that this garden is not a place of idealized perfection. Resurrection life is not idealized perfection.
We know, too, that our living is not without death of one kind or another. During this season of Lent, we have together explored the questions of death – Jesus’ death through the bible study, our own through the discussion evenings. We have named our reluctance to talk about death in many of our cultural contexts. We have considered the confronting situations in which people may choose to end this life we have on earth. Our Lenten discussion series brought us to life, as it took us into the shadows, shone light in the dark corners we try to ignore.
But there is an inherent mystery to this life, to resurrected life, the life beyond what we know here on earth. And many of our questions remain unanswered.
Do you know of Professor Brian Cox? He’s a scientist who presents tv shows, among other things. I came across a show he was doing recently, in which he was posing the question: what is life? He began in a village in the Philippines, with people celebrating their ancestors in a ritual or festival of the dead, to which I came late and missed exactly what it was. But with people carrying candles through a cemetery all around him, Cox posed the question of spirit, acknowledging the many different ways in which human cultures have given expression to our sense of the beyond, the something more, the mysterious spark of life that may not in fact be wholly contained in this mortal flesh.
Cox returned to science and to matter, identifying in the protons at the heart of all matter the spark for all life – though he really didn’t say where that spark came from. He talked about the magical quality of energy, which is not created, nor is it diminished, it simply is, and gets transferred from one thing to another. The magical quality of energy is that it is eternal. But where does energy itself come from?
As I watched I thought of God as that energy. That’s the story that shapes my understanding of things: God is the spark of life, the source of life, the beginning of it all. We talk often of God as eternal. What if we were to say God is the eternal, the energy in all life that rebounds from one thing to another, never diminishing, unable to be created because it already is. ?
I love the details science can give us of the wonderful creation of which we are a part. But I also love the mystery, and am content to sit back in awe and let the mystery simply be.
Perhaps that’s the poet in me, I don’t know. Poets do tend to suggest, describe the mystery without trying to define it, use the figurative rather than the literal, or the literal to say more, to say something of the unspeakable mysteries.
What about our poem from Mary Oliver then? If we were to pose the question to that poem, what is life, what would that poem say? Life is a prayer. Life is a flower (and remember you are a flower today), a flower reaching for the sun in response to its call, unfurling and with all of its being, being a prayer.
So what if we, with all of our being, were prayers? What might that look like as the energy we receive from the Eternal rebounding as energy from us?
If prayer is communion with God, and as living prayers we are therefore in communion with God, then our living is profoundly shaped by that communion with God. What does that look like? Well what was Jesus’ life like – for he lived in deep communion with God? Our lives would be peace-making, kind, compassionate, just, fiercely loyal to God’s way of love, pouring ourselves out for the sake of each other – are you as excited as I am by the idea of life lived like that? It is enticing; it is, itself, a life giving way of life, is it not? Because you’ve seen what hope compassion brings, how love heals: we have experienced this positive energy rebounding, transferring from one to another, never diminished, always sparking life …
And what if we, together, were a garden of flowers, a garden of prayers – what might the world receive from us then?
Do you have a garden? Do you go into your garden for peace, joy, sometimes to work hard in order to nourish life?
Do you go to the Botanic gardens to walk, to breathe, to learn, to delight in the beauty you find there?
What does our life together, the church as a prayer garden look like?
Simple and quiet, calm and sure of itself. We live the resurrection, living in the confidence of God’s ‘yes’, God’s love. We trust in life beyond, participate in God’s kingdom here already; we are counter-cultural, resisting self-promotion, trusting in God, nurturing life.
Busy and diverse, each flower feeding and fed by the others. Each one unique, not quite replicable, we nod to each other with respect, making space for each other to flourish. Our prayers are active, we speak up for the dignity of others, give of ourselves to comfort, encourage, support one another.
Pointing towards the sun, drinking in the rain, sinking roots deep into the earth. We flash our tender signals of gratitude. We gather to worship God, bearing witness to God’s presence; we pray, we study, we discuss our ideas about God and listen for the Spirit.
Realistic and honest in our embrace of death as part of the cycle of life. We drop our seeds, our petals, our leaves, parts of ourselves given in order to grow new life. And our rituals guide us, our honesty and courage help us to grieve and to heal.
The psalms sing of such a way of being, of life lived in communion with God. As we heard from Ps 118 today, the psalmist sings, I have life, and with that life I will tell the story of God, the source of my life. I will be a prayer.
In the Gospel narrative, in the beloved disciple’s uncomprehending, faithful belief, and in Mary’s sigh of relief and return to life, we see two more whose actions say I have life, and with that life I will be a prayer to God.
God’s resurrection of Jesus
is a yes to the life
he lived, the love he gave,
the sacrifice he made –
God’s own self-giving
to enter humanity
to shed God’s own blood
to bring to life again
all that has been given life
by Divine self-giving:
God the Eternal,
the energy pulsing through
The whole Jesus event –
the life, death, resurrection
of Jesus is one more
in a continual series of yes
responses to the life God
creates, the yes we choose to hear
and live into.
So listen, and hear, today as we
celebrate the resurrection of Christ,
which is the Divine yes to life,
God’s yes – and turn like Mary,
turn like a flower towards the sun,
turn towards the source of life
and feel your heart burst, your
breath quicken; feel yourself
come back to life and let’s join together
to grow a garden of diverse,
prayers to God with our living.