#AdventBookClub day 5 – week 7 – ‘The first King’

We come to the end of our #AdventBookClub journey with R.S. Thomas, with these words:

"wisdom must come on foot."

And I wonder… I wonder what sort of wisdom this is, that comes on foot? I wonder what I need to do (or not do) to slow down enough to encounter this pedestrian wisdom? I wonder what are the things I am chasing after that look like wisdom, but are not? I wonder how to shape a life open to the kind of wisdom that comes quietly, gently, unpretentiously?

And so – slowly, gently, with care and attentiveness, striving to be open to the quiet wisdom of the ordinary and the wild expanses of God – the journey goes on…

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.

#AdventBookClub week 5 – day 6 – ‘That there…’

I wonder what sort of landscape you are transported to by R.S.Thomas’ image of :

       a landscape
that will through all time
resist our endeavours
at domestication.

My mind goes to the moors my cousins and I played on as children – with huge and strange rock formations which we pretended were animals or castles or pirate ships, or whatever our game required – vast untamed space where we too could be untamed. Or the sea on a wild and windy day, crashing over whatever sea walls or flood barriers we humans have erected in a vain attempt to contain or control it. Or the sheer enormity of a view so vast our eyes and minds struggle to take it in, and a photo can never to justice to the immense space.

But all the wild landscapes of our experience or imagination are only a metaphor in Thomas’ writing for the untamed vastness of God. Lurking beneath the surface of our world, beneath all our illusions or order and control, is another reality: the all-encompassing, untamable wildness/wilderness of God. For me, this has echoes of what a very different theologian, Mary Daly, refers to as the Background, which she defines as:

"the Realm of Wild Reality: the Homeland of women's Selves and of all other Others; the Time/Space where auras of plants, planets, stars animals, and all Other animate beings connect"

I wonder whether Thomas would recognise in that definition something of the untamed reality of the kingdom of God, which he tries to capture (if ‘capture’ can possibly be the right word for conveying the very wildness of it) in this poem, and in so much of his writing?

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.

#AdventBookClub week 5 – day 5 – ‘The God’

I like the way this poem acknowledges the different perspectives from which we see God, and therefore the different aspects of God we perceive. For me, this opens up two avenues of thought:

1. We all have more than one of these perspectives (and many others not mentioned in the poem, of course) because all of us are multi-faceted people. So I may approach God as a theologian and as a poet, as well as as a woman, a white person, a lesbian, and many more aspects of identity. And the multiple overlapping, interleaving perspectives of God which our own multiple overlapping identities and roles give us will contribute to how we understand the depth and complexity of who God is.

2. But none of us can fully perceive God. We need the insights of people whose perspective is different from our own. Our collective image of God will always be fuller and more expensive than any one person’s. This is one of the reasons the life of faith needs to be lived in some sense in community. By allowing the perspective of the Other to interrupt and interleave with our own, by sitting with the tensions and paradoxes that may reveal, we allow ourselves to become more fully aware of the depth and complexity of God.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.

#AdventBookClub week 5 – day 4 – ‘Adjustments’

There is something in me that recognises at a deep level the process of adjustment which R. S. Thomas describes in this poem:

              We never catch
him at work, but can only say,
coming suddenly upon an amendment,
that here he has been.

This has very much been my experience of vocation – both of discernment and formation. I never seem to catch God in the act of transformation, and yet I am transformed. Not in a spectacular way, but in many tiny, ongoing ways – ‘adjustments’ indeed, perhaps that is a better, less dramatic, more honest way of describing this process.

I know there is a model of formation for priesthood which suggests we need to be ‘broken’ or in some sense de-constructed as part of the process, in order to be ‘put back together’ in ways which better equip us for ordained ministry. I don’t buy that. It doesn’t sound to me like the way the God I know and love works. And it presents an altogether more heroic concept of the process of formation than I am comfortable with.

I prefer the idea of adjustments. All those changes, small and not-so-small, which reset our course a little, which reframe a part of our worldview, which at some level change and gently (or sometimes not-so-gently) re-shape us. This is the God I recognise. God who is attentive to who we are, who cherishes both who we are and who we are becoming, who nudges and leads us into becoming more ourselves, more fully the people God has created us to be.

And we – or I, at least – rarely notice the adjustments as they happen. But sometimes I look back and think: “ah, yes, this is not where I was then, I have been changed.” An adjustment has happened.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.

#AdventBookClub week 5 – day 3 – ‘The Absence’

I have been spending a lot of time lately with the idea of God as a ‘breathing space’ and the poem very much resonated with that. God as space, as place, as room to breathe, as room to wait, to grow, to live. And here we see the God of the in-between, God of relationship, God of connection.

The need for emptiness is striking. And in these empty days (at least for me) between Christmas and the New Year return to work, I am challenged by this. I am, to be honest, struggling to find God in this emptiness which would usually be full of gatherings of all the people I love most. I wonder whether this is an invitation to enter further into emptiness, rather than attempting a pale imitation of all the things I long to fill it with but cannot. I wonder if that’s an invitation I am brave enough to accept. I wonder what of God I might meet there if I am.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.

#AdventBookClub week 5 – day 2 – ‘Tidal’

Here we are, returning to the sea again. I wonder whether the reason I feel such an affinity with R.S. Thomas is because he is such a sea-infused poet? In today’s poem I can almost hear the drag of the shingle beneath the wave’s surface, the advancing and receeding roar of it.

This movement of waves and tides is an interesting metaphor for prayer. So many of the metaphors we use about faith, of building, growing, harvesting, etc, are all about increase. But the sea, never still, moves differently to that. Instead the rising and falling of the waves and tides are part of its natural rhythm. There is no increase without decrease, no rushing in without a corresponding withdrawal. Perhaps this is a healthier metaphor for prayer. Certainly in my own prayer life the rhythm of movement, of increase and decrease, is not one of continual growth. I doubt I am alone in that. There are periods of fruitfulness and of dryness, or perhaps rising and falling tides are a better metaphor.

A falling tide is no failure. Nor is it merely preparation for the next rising. It is in itself a part of the cycle of the sea’s continuous movement. Nor is a receeding wave a lack – it is part of what waves do. I wonder how our relationship with ourselves, with our prayer life, with God, would change if we applied that metaphor to the receeding, falling part of prayer? Not failure or lack, but part of the nature of the thing, part of our nature, known, held and loved by God.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.

#AdventBookClub week 5 – day 1 – ‘The Kingdom’

    It's a long way off, but to get
There takes no time and admission
Is free

Here is the paradox of the kingdom of God – simultaneously both near and far, both among us and long expected – with which we have journeyed this Advent. This is a kingdom which we do not attain by our own strength or endeavours, but which we receive through grace, freely and as completely as we are willing to surrender our illusions of control.

The image of “faith, green as a leaf” is striking here. A leaf is not only a fragile thing, an a small thing, but also a growing, living thing, full of potential. I wonder what that sort of faith looks like?

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.

#AdventBookClub week 4 – day 7 – ‘The Gap’

I love the way Carys Walsh describes the ‘gap’ of this poem, as “the great paradox of the filled and empty ‘blank’ in the dictionary”. Here, again, is one of those great paradoxes of faith: the God whom we know we cannot describe. All our words fall short of who God is. However much we pile up phrase upon phrase, image upon image, we will never reach the sum of who God is. And that itself is part of who God is – the one beyond words, beyond description, beyond the power of speech to capture or control. All our words can only go so far in pointing towards the Word. The rest is silence.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.

#AdventBookClub week 4 – day 6 – ‘Other incarnations, of course’

There has been a cartoon doing the rounds on social media lately: a stable scene, with Mary saying “It’s a girl!” and the caption is something like “What else could go wrong in 2020?” It seems very popular among people I know, and people keep sending it to me. And I hate it so much.

This Advent, I have been reading Nicola Slee’s essay ‘Re-imagining Christ as the Coming Girl: An Advent Experiment’ in her latest book, “Fragments for Fractured Times”. It’s about the importance of allowing ourselves to imagine Christ coming as a girl, to allow our theological imaginations to be shaped by a veiw of God which can conceive of God as a girl, of the incarnation in female form. The girl God is not the butt of a joke, but a profoundly important statement of who can image God for us, where the limits are of how and in whom we will allow ourselves to encounter God. For as long as there are types of bodies – female bodies, queer bodies, disabled bodies, black bodies – in which we cannot imagine the incarnation taking place, there will be people whom we do not truly see as made in the image of God. This is the theological driver behind feminist images of the Christa, as it is behind black theologians’ work on the figure of a black Jesus. If it is wrong to look for the incarnation in a girl’s body, if Christ coming as a girl is something “gone wrong”, then do we really imagine girls to be fully, God-createdly human at all? Much in our culture (including that cartoon) suggests the answer ‘no’ – but I think God wants to give a resounding ‘yes’.

R.S. Thomas is no feminist theologian, but I suspect he would have no problem with these ideas (and I bet he wouldn’t share that cartoon either!). In today’s poem we see Thomas embracing an expansive understanding of incarnation, which encourages the reader to see the Christ whom we meet in the manger in all sorts of other forms and places too, and so expand our encounter with the living God.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.

#AdventBookClub week 4 – day 5 – ‘Emerging’

“It is matter is the scaffolding / of spirit.” This seems to me, on this strangest of Christmas Eves, to get to the heart of the incarnation. God is not abstract, and nor is God a mere human projection. God becomes flesh and meets us in the tangible, the real, the matter, the stuff of life, in ways which lead us to see the depths of the divine in all things.

This afternoon we met for Muddy Church. And the matter through which God’s presence was made known was very tangible. Twigs tied into stars, trees silhouetted against the fading light, fairy lights and written messages of hope – and, yes, mud – all were part of the ‘scaffolding of spirit’ for us in that time and place. And so too the hands that tied the string and wrote the words, the feet that squelched through mud, voices that sang together across the distance of a field, beloved faces revealing the image of God.

I think perhaps this is, for me, one of the reasons I have found online worship almost impossible to engage with. I miss the matter too much. Embodiment matters. Bodies matter. Here, in flesh and blood, in neighbour and stranger, is God. Sometimes I need to see the scaffolding to discern the spirit.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading “Frequencies of God: walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas” by Carys Walsh. Join the conversation on Twitter using #AdventBookClub or on Facebook by searching for the group ‘Advent Book Club’.