Who counts counts? Counts count numbers,
overpower them, reducing them, demeaning them
making them number, dumber, cannon fodder,
forced labour, numbers & counters who don’t count,
won’t count. Beware those who count
counter to those God counts dear.
My poetweet this morning responds to a reading of Genesis 3
It’s also the serpent
that opens the eyes of the blind.
And when they saw they sewed,
dressing their nakedness,
hiding their very selves
behind blinds of honesty
from one another,
from God, forever,
till another one with love
opens the eyes of the blind. #Genesis3#cLectio
Since the dawn of time we have been wanting to help one another to see. “Now, can you see?”, we ask. “Why can’t you see?”, we accuse. I am really grateful for those who have opened my own eyes, for those who have coloured my life with love, those who have helped me to be more open and more confident. I am not so grateful for those who have been more serpentine, those who have insinuated shame into my life.
How can I help others to see? What if I am not careful in the way that I am? What if all I did was bring shame and destroy self-confidence? What if I am serpent like in my feedback and suggestion? What if all I achieved was to force people back into their shell? What if I poisoned their view of the world and themselves?
The serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw [through the eyes of the serpent] that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight for the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. Genesis 3
How can I help others to see unless someone with love opens my eyes? Until then, I am a blind guide, even blind to the damage I do to the eyes of others.
I love that tweet @la_vagabondeuse and know the feeling of opening up a box of treasures. There are so many jewels out there. Of course, this has more to do with la_vagabondeuse’s willingness to open her ears and heart to others. Twitter is just the means to that end – one of many social media and other means.
I spent an hour and a half reading through my Twitter feed this morning. Call it a birthday indulgence if you like, but I know it is something I should be doing more of (listening, that is). There are whole boxes of treasure and so many jewels. Here’s some of what dazzled me this morning:
I do realise that Twitter is a preserve of the chattering classes, but it is one way of listening to others. We can choose our newsfeed and who we listen to. I choose the twitterati who have their ear to the ground, the ones who are sensitive to the rumblings of down to earth living (over, for example, the Daily Mail and its presumption of daily fail). And I discover, through that listening, the huge amount of treasure in the community chest – treasure graphically portrayed in another tweet from Paul Wright @LeanLeft_Wright this morning.
This shows the energy bubbling under the surface of community making the point that community develops through the appreciation of its members. You have to live there to know that. It is about opening our ears to hear the voices of others, and opening our hearts to the passion of others and celebrating the community bounty – the treasures and jewels of the community chest, just like la vagabondeuse is trying to do. This is loving the voice of our neighbour and discovering our commonwealth. Put technically this is “asset based community development”. But for those who live there, it is simply the love that makes the rock on which community builds (to paraphrase @radicalhoneybee).
To make some of us who say Morning Prayer on our own accountable, we gather our thoughts using Twitter #cLectio – some are now using Facebook too. It is a company I find helpful. I look forward to our daily posts, some of which are quite challenging. Hashtag cLectio was the brainchild of friend and colleague @theosoc Christopher Burkett. #cLectio stands for the (Revised) Common Lectionary – that’s the “c”, see? The lectionary lists readings for worship for each day of the year. (There’s an app for daily prayer using the lectionary readings.)
Posts are often our first thoughts, sometimes our only thoughts, and other times they’re more thoughtful. Anyone can join in, either daily or occasional. At the moment we are reading through the book of Job. This is an amazing piece of ancient literature which is a sustained reflection on suffering, faith and friendship: questions which remain contemporary through the ages.
In this week’s clection we’ve been gobsmacked by Job’s friend, Eliphaz. Alan Jewell, @VicarAlan, scoffed: “With friends like Eliphaz ….” while Christopher complained “Eliphaz really gets to me, I so dislike what he says”. Eliphaz’s windy words and miserable comfort have made us reflect on what we say and how we respond to suffering and grief – thoughts made more urgent with events at Grenfell Tower and Finsbury Park.
We’re not meant to like Eliphaz and his words warn us off from being a friend like him. My “clection of the day” yesterday arose from some of Eliphaz’s words from the appointed reading, Job 15.
Your sin prompts your mouth;
you adopt the tongue of the crafty.
Your own mouth condemns you, not mine;
your own lips testify against you.
How very dare he? In fact, it’s these windy, wounding words that condemns Eliphaz to the readers’ ridicule. But there is a truth in what Eliphaz says. Our “sin” does prompt our mouths and we do utter our attitudes. We have a proverb that says that eyes are the windows of the soul. But if we speak from the heart what we say is also a reflection of our heart and soul.
So I got to pray:
And I remembered the question raised by Malcolm Guite in a poem from his Singing Bowl:
What if every word we say
Never ends or fades away,
Gathers volume gathers weigh,
Drums and dins us with dismay
Surges on some dreadful day
When we cannot get away
Whelms us till we drown?
What if not a word is lost,
What if every word we cast
Cruel, cunning, cold, accurst,
Every word we cut and paste
Echoes to us from the past
Fares and finds us first and last
Haunts and hunts us down?
What if every murmuration,
Every otiose oration
Every oath and imprecation,
Every blogger’s aberration,
Every facebook fabrication
Every twittered titivation,
Every facile explanation,
Drags us to the ground?
What if each polite evasion
Every word of defamation,
Insults made by implication,
Compromise in convocation,
Propaganda for the nation
False or flattering peruasion,
Blackmail and manipulation
Grows to such reverberation
That it shakes our own foundation,
Shakes and brings us down?
Better that some words be lost,
Better that they should not last,
Tongues of fire and violence.
O Word through whom the world is blessed,
Word in whom all words are graced,
Do not bring us to the test,
Give our clamant voices rest,
And the rest is silence.
I don’t count myself a “biblical scholar”. When I come to my daily reading from the Old Testament it is often as if I am reading the section for the first time. (Along with others I tend to tweet my naive responses with the #cLectio hashtag, here, here, here, here and here.) My current intrigue is with the Song of Songs, a tiny book of love poetry. And it is as if I am reading it for the first time. I guess it has always been a closed book to me – closed because of its reputation and the manner of its interpretation possibly as a consequence of its reputation. By reputation it is highly erotic and “saucy”. I’d prefer the description “absolutely delightful”. I wonder if a sense of embarrassment has led to its allegorical interpretations shared by synagogue and church which sees the poetry referring to the love of God for his people. Have such interpretations demeaned the text?
Some people will be surprised the Song of Songs is included in our scripture because there is no mention of God and the content is highly erotic. The Song of Songs is the title of the book. It is a superlative title indicating that this Song is very special. Colloquially we could say that this is the “mother and father of all song”. There are two speakers who are lovers. Later readers have named them Solomon (even David) and “the Shulammite” (someone from Jerusalem which translates as “the place of peace”). Allegorical interpreters have called one of the lovers “God” and the other “Israel” or “Church”. Personally I don’t see why we need to rush to their naming and I have preferred to leave them to themselves as two lovers. One of them, the maiden, has her confidantes. They are “daughters of Jerusalem”. They stand by. They have a view but no say. They stay as readers and celebrants. I have chosen to join them.
To me the couple are young lovers and with the Daughters of Jerusalem we are privileged to watch love building through them. My reading may have been influenced by Trevor Dennis (here is reason why we should reading him) who finds reason to call Adam and Eve children in his reading of Genesis. There are so many references to a garden in the Song of Songs that I couldn’t help going back to the Garden of Eden, to the boy and the girl we find in paradise. We have to be sorry the way they turned out (and the way they were turned out). I can’t help wondering whether The Song of Songs is dreaming a happy ending, building in love rather than falling in love.
One hot afternoon Adam and Eve, unselfconsciously naked, sat on the bank of one of the rivers of Eden, dangling their feet in the water. Eve picked up a flat, round stone, stood up and flicked it in twelve graceful bounces right across to the other side.
‘Who taught you to do that?’ asked Adam.
Adam turned towards God. ‘Did you really?’
‘Could you teach me?’
‘Of course. Watch.’
God stood up, chose a stone carefully, kissed it, curled his finger round it, and, with a movement of his wrist too quick to catch, sent it spinning downstream. It went almost as far as Adam and Eve could see, then swung round in a tight circle and came speeding towards them again, till with one last bounce it skipped back into God’s hand. It had hit the water two hundred times, and had left two hundred circles spreading and entwining themselves upon the surface. From the middle of each circle a fish leaped, somersaulted, and splashed back into the river.
‘Now you try!’ said God. Adam pushed him into the water. God came to the surface a few yards out from the bank. ‘That was level ten, by the way,’ he called. ‘Eve’s only at level two at the moment, aren’t you Eve?’ ‘You were showing off, God,’ said Eve. ‘You’ll be walking on the water next!’ ‘That’s level twenty,’ laughed God, and promptly disappeared beneath the surface.
So it was once in Eden. So it can be still. So it is, on rare and precious occasions. But Adam and Eve complicated matters. They grew up to think flicking stones child’s play. They turned in upon themselves, and God remained out of sight, beneath the surface. They did not sit with him on the bank any more. Now and then, realizing their loneliness and overcome with sudden longing, they would gaze out across the water and see the ripples he left behind. But these were soon gone, and the water would resume its customary smoothness, as if nothing had happened, as if he had never been there.
There are so many beautiful images in this Love Song of Love Songs. It is spring time, a time for building love’s nest. The references to spring signify love that is young, lovers for whom relationship is a novel and delicious mystery.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in the land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.” Song of Songs 2:10-13
The song is soaked in pleasant images, images that are so sensual. They are images of body and bed, field and garden. The whole of creation seems to behind their love and a rich harvest is the outcome of their love. With the Daughters of Jerusalem and with the young lovers, we are allowed into a special world. For me, this is a creation story: the mother and father of so many love songs.
(And, of course, it reminded me of another garden, the strange meeting of two people there and the love that never goes cold between them.)
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb … As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). John 20:11-16
Love has created a world of its own – always has done, always will.
Like Qoheleth I am rather taken by the poor man in the city. It was a small city with only a few inhabitants. It was besieged but there was one man, a poor and wise man, who, by his wisdom delivered the city.
Not a lot of people know this man. He’s not someone I’ve ever noticed before, but he is there, highlighted in one of the less read books of the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes 9:14f. He doesn’t have a name. His story is told in not so many words:
There was a little city with few people in it. A great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. Now there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city.
Like Qoheleth (the Teacher), I want to honour this man and the poor, wise men and women like him, who save their cities (our cities) from destruction by greed, speed and countless other destabilising and dehumanising forces. They are the salt of the earth, far removed from what we refer to as the typical “city gent”. We know he is not well-heeled and we know that he is care-worn (because his wisdom is forged from the attention and care he gives – and that is demanded of him in the challenge of just managing). These are the people we can turn to in times of trouble. They will hear us out, they will offer their wisdom. They become the heart (anagram of earth) of our communities and the springboards to trust and confidence.
But they are so often overlooked. This man reminds me of R.S.Thomas’s “friend”, Iago Prytherch – another man who would have gone unnoticed were it not for Thomas drawing him to our attention. Prytherch is down to earth, hard-working, more peasant than citizen, with an earthly wisdom. Thomas writes in Green Categories:
You never heard of Kant, did you Prytherch?
A strange man! What would he have said
Of your life here, free from the remote
War of antinomies: free also
From mind’s uncertainty faced with a world
Of its own making?
Here all is sure:
Things exist rooted in the flesh,
Stone, tree and flower. Even while you sleep
In your low room, the dark moor exerts
Its pressures on the timbers. Space and time
Are not the mathematics that your will
Imposes, but a green calendar
Your hearts observes; how else could you
Find your way home or know when to die
With the slow patience of the men who raised
This landmark in the moor’s deep tides?
His logic would have failed; your mind too.
Exposed suddenly to the cold wind
Of genius, faltered. Yet at night together
In your small garden, fenced from the wild moor’s
Constant aggression, you could have been at one
Sharing your faith over a star’s blue fire.
I don’t want to say that this man is Christ (because that might prevent us celebrating the ordinary people in ordinary places using their hard won wisdom for the welfare of the city), but I do want to say that man is Christ-like, and that Jesus too was poor and saves the city.
These are the people who are blessed. That is not an idle saying of Jesus (Luke 6:20). The blessing has substance and content, including wisdom that bears so much fruit. These are the people we hear praying in the Psalms. I think Isaiah is talking of a similar poor man in the city when he writes:
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:2f)
I want to remember that poor man and those men and women like him. Qoheleth writes, “No one remembered that poor man … the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heeded.” He continues,
The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded
than the shouting of a ruler among fools (Ecclesiastes 9:17)
But that is the world’s way – to be taken in by the vanities of the rich and powerful. We remember them (we name estates and prizes after them) and forget the poor (and the wisdom of their deep knowledge) – that’s if we ever notice them in the first place.
“Consider these facts. In Italy the right to worship, without discrimination, is enshrined within the constitution. There are 1.35 million Muslims in Italy and yet only eight official mosques in the whole country. … This shortage of places to worship is particularly acute in North East Italy as the right wing Lega Nord party campaigns on an anti-Islamic platform. this region, consent to build a new mosque is never granted.”
That is how Martin Parr introduces a wonderful book that documents the places of worship improvised by the Muslim population of NE Italy, a large proportion of whom are migrant workers. The book is called Hidden Islamand is made up of a series of photographs by Nicolo Degiorgis of the places of worship housed in lockups, garages, shops, warehouses and old factories.
The book’s design is intriguing. Each page is folded. On the outside of the fold is a simple black and white photo of a shop, warehouse etc together with the building’s postcode. There is no clue on the outside of what goes on in the inside. To find that out, we have to go to the inside of the fold – and there we find vibrant photos of Friday Prayers. For example, the stark exterior photo of a garage (postcode V136015)
opens to this
A wonderful book which tells a disgraceful story in a disarmingly simple way.
My own morning prayers took me to Ezra 6 in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). That situation offers such a contrast to what is happening in Italy and in so many other places where the rights and needs of religious minorities are ignored. The scene there is the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem with the support of the imperial government. Royal revenues were to be used to provide whatever was necessary “so that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his children.” (Ezra 6:10).
It seems obvious to me that religious people need to gather to pray, to pray even for those who persecute them, and to pray for the welfare of the city. Religious landmarks in our cities and on our skylines are reminders of our vocation as children of God. They should be there for all our citizens.