It was a deeply poignant yet beautiful Midnight Mass tonight in St Thomas' Church in Market Rasen. I had indeed had a yearning for one more such communion in the cold and dark and the depths of the symbolism and mystery it reflects - but not for years to come and not like this. The nave altar stood precisely where my parents’ coffins had been just two days before, the mood and singing was subdued by masks and the pandemic, numbers reduced and the liturgy unexuberant. Yet the magic, the miracle, persists - light in the very darkness, glory in the mire and sorrow, enfleshed spirit in our mixed up midst - and eucharistic participation on this, of all occasions, remains so truly special.
It was hard to move away into the night, for the last time to leave the church of my childhood and early formation, to step along the pathway into the marketplace one more time. The main street seemed even more deserted than ever as I made my return - even the wandering drunk had been spirited away. Walking the last part in silent darkness between the two cemeteries for the final time brought back the fullness of so many memories as well as profound emptiness and grief. For in the depths of our factual and metaphorical winters love can be reborn - just as a new dawn broke after the winter solstice on the morning of my parents’ funeral.
T.S.Eliot was partly right. ‘A cold coming’ it has indeed been - ‘just the worst time of year for a journey… the very dead of winter’, even without the Omicron wave and renewed distance and desolation - but we do not need to be ‘glad of another death.’ Birth, life and love happens always - divinity in the vulnerability of our flesh: Incarnation in our dark.
Wandering in my most beloved of woods after my parents' deaths - part of nature’s healing cathedrals, offering sustenance and protection for the spirit and the senses, restoring wholeness. Green, not least, is such an earthy resurrection colour, pagan and Christian in the very best senses. . No wonder Hildegard talked of greening (viriditas); nearby legends here sing of Robin, Marian, of the May and Merrie folk; and Lincoln Green is the colour of life-giving - particularly appropriate in wintry lives. For, as the medieval balladeer sang, “When they were clothed in Lyncolne grene they kest away their gray"
Or, as the poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon (LEL) put it:
“Come back, come back, my childhood;
Thou art summoned by a spell
From the green leaves of the wild wood,
From beside the charmed well!
'Tis Red Riding-Hood, the darling,
The flower of fairy lore….
a younger sister for the heart”
This photo was taken, earlier this year, from my bed of healing in a delightful unit in St Kilda (Melbourne). I had just had genital reconstruction surgery, thanks to the excellent skills of Andy Ives and his wonderful team at the nearby Masada Hospital, and I was in my first stages of recovery 'at home'. When the night's darkness began to lift, the new light of day brought this beautiful dawn. My eyes opened to the glorious gift of nature's renewal, and, with it, to the wonder of human participation in the joy of existence and work of re-creation. For across the sky, just above the treeline, floated a series of hot air balloons, beautiful expressions of fresh lightness and delight (you may just be able to spot two of them in the photo - as small circles to the left of the centre of the light, adjacent to the word alleluia). At the same time, the sunrise further gorgeously illuminated the cranes working on the building of the exciting development of the Victorian Pride Centre, visible a couple of streets away across the rooftops.
This experience was, as might be imagined, for me, a vision and harbinger of resurrection. It did not take away the struggles I was going through. The surgery itself was very successful, and there was not a subsequent shred of regret - so much the reverse, with deeper inner peace. Yet the days ahead also saw pain and discomfort, particularly with an awkward infection and a slow completion of healing due to sensitive skin (part of the joy of being a particular kind of natural redhead?!). The wider struggles of gender & sexually diverse people are also hardly over, despite such welcome living symbols of resurrection as the Pride Centre. Yet that dawn was not only a moment of special grace, but also a deep sign of hope and loving transformation, not simply for myself but for so much else about which I care. For resurrection, at least in this life and time space, is always betwixt and between...
The prayer I wrote for this Good Friday I put with this powerful arresting image from Hailey Kean (courtesy of Unsplash). For whilst Good Friday is also about the ultimate triumph of Love, it is vitally about facing and holding the cruel realities of life and betrayals of love - which are very, very real for so many this day, including in the devastating pain of violation, abuse and silencing of victims. There can never be new life for the abusive and violating structures and features of the church and the world without this recognition, and deep, demanding, repentance - also not the work of a single year or decade, never mind one day in the year. Irrespective of legal rights and wrongs, this is, for example, a powerful message to be heard from survivors after the High Court's verdict on George Pell's case this week.
May those who have been violated and abused know that they are not their violation and abuse but love and loved, and my the light of resurrection ultimately shine in the midst of the crucifixions of this time.
It was such a joy on this day of Resurrection to meet the recently new born Leo today in the Special Care Baby Unit at the Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital and to share Easter communion with his wonderful parents. Leo was born prematurely but is thriving with loving care and is a delightful gift to our St Francis College and Milton Anglican community as well as to family and friends. We hold Leo in our prayers and look forward to his coming home. In his beautiful fragility and hopeful promise he already however offers us spiritual insight and connection. Indeed, one of the lovely aspects of his beginnings is the moving Aboriginal artwork at the entry to Special Care. This centres on the kookaburra, a Christ-like symbolic announcer of new creation, and offers ancestral spiritual wisdom. For, in the words of the Aboriginal artist Tracy McGregor:
the kookaburra spreads the news of a new baby created...
the baby will then be part of a spiritual family connection that treasures the ground they walk on, allowing the child to grow with strength and wisdom like their ancestors...
Our youth is now part of our future and they will travel on a journey that will be filled with all the knowledge and guidance that allows them to unite with the land and the people.
This is the magical journey of life.
This morning, on this April Fool's Day, we Milton Anglicans also pondered the laughter of God's Resurrection. Leo is a gorgeous sign of this. No wonder the kookaburra laughs.
For several years Toowoomba hosted the major Christian gathering called Easterfest. This brought great life to the city and many people, especially young people, from far and near. St Luke's happily hosted part of the 'Gospel in the Chapel' program in recent years, with some magnificent Christian bands, individual musicians and dance perfomers. The closure of Easterfest last year therefore left a major gap in the Toowoomba city, as well as local Christian, calendar. As a response, many in the Christian community collaborated this year with the Regional Council in something new - the Streets and Lanes Festival - bringing new life to the city centre on Holy Saturday with various music performers and other activities in the streets and lanes. St Luke's was a key site. Here is a brief report:
All day people came to St. Luke's to enjoy the friendly atmosphere, share food and fabulous coffee, and wander among the various stalls. Children particularly enjoyed the three stations of activities prepared for them, around the themes of suffering, rising and walking to Emmaus. Their green and yellow footsteps painted on calico formed a wonderful addition to our worship on The Sunday after Easter. The range and skill of the performers, dancers and musicians who graced the afternoon was tremendous and certainly added to the beauty of the afternoon, and the rain held off until the last note was played and the last two walkers completed their meditative walk around the labyrinth. Meanwhile in church dozens of people enjoyed the quiet atmosphere and the chance to reflect upon the visual meditation on the passion and resurrection ably curated by Sharon Roberts. All in all a blessed afternoon that we hope to repeat in years to come.
It was a great pleasure to be able to visit Warsaw a few weeks ago, both to see my uncle and meet members of his Anglican chaplaincy there and also to experience a little of Polish life. We were very impressed by the city of Warsaw and the way in which Poles have kept faith and hope alive through some very dark days. In some ways the story of modern Warsaw is one of lived resurrection beyond appalling death and suffering. We hope and pray that it may continue to grow and flourish through today's fresh uncertainties. Penny's reflection on this can be found by clicking here. The Anglican chaplaincy website can be found by clicking here.
It makes all the difference, John O'Donohue once said, whether you see God as an artist. Once you do, everything changes. For, as he observed so rightly, we have so over emphasised the will of God, and so devastatingly neglected the imagination of God, that we have deeply impoverished ourselves. For:
Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become. (in To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings)
I didn't used to regard myself as an artist. That is only for special people, I used to think, and you have to be very good at it. Now I know that that is bunkum. We are all artists. Some work with paint, clay, or other materials. Some with the human body and its expression. Others with music or words. Others shape places, communities, moments or people. For we are all made in the image of God, and the first divine blblical characteristic (read Genesis) is creativity: then, now and always. That is something I love about St Luke's church in Toowoomba. It comes marvelously alive when, at Carnival and at other much more ordinary times, it is clothed with the grace and creativity of God in human artistry. And it can happen every day, if we let it and embrace it...
For me, the church is therefore what a brave man once called 'an art school of divine majesty'. Think of that, or, better still, imagine that: feel it, and see what a difference it makes to your life and faith and that of others. What Fr George Tyrrell (see photo left) was trying to say is that being part of a religious tradition and community is like being part of an artistic tradition and community. There may be great 'masters' like Rembrandt who show the way. An artist may sit at their feet and learn and develop in that art school. For we do not make art by ourselves. That is an individualist fallacy. Yet there will come a time when every artist need to make this task their own. Perhaps they will even overthrow some of the foundational assumptions and shapes of their master: all however in the cause of deeper beauty, love and truth. Isn't that, said George Tyrrell, how faith evolves and expands?
Tyrrell was a man of great courage. For, drawing on God's grace and the riches of the Church's tradition, he used his creative imagination, scholarly intelligence, pastoral sensitivity and deep religious learning to give new life to the Church of his day. Today many of his insights have been accepted, further critiqued and developed by Catholic and Protestants alike. However he was condemned by Pope Pius X, with other so-called Catholic Modernists, expelled from the Jesuit order, denied the sacraments, and finally excommunicated. He was not allowed a Catholic burial and was interred in an unmarked grave. A priest friend, Henri Bremond, who had the grace to make the sign of the cross over the grave, was himself, as a result, then suspended for a while. For being a religious artist is not always easy - just see what happened to Jesus. Yet being an artist, and part of an 'art school of divine majesty', is part of the gateway to resurrection: to greater and deeper life, beauty, truth and love, for us and for others. May the divine artist flourish in everyone.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.