My good friend Mark posted today on his Dissonant Bible blog, and as always has left me with plenty to think about. Before you read this, visit him or my witterings will make even less sense than normal.
Read it ? (as the frog said)
Right, on we go then.
As you’ll have seen, Mark expands Jesus’s question to Simon the Pharisee so that it reads not just "Do you see this woman”
"Do you really see her? I don' t think you do - not as I see her, not as God [in whose image she is made, never forget] sees her. Because if you saw her as I do, there would be consequences that would turn your safe, religious world upside down and might just bring in the kingdom of God."
And that reminded me of the 2nd diocesan conference I attended, 3 years ago now. At the time, I was working as a charity administrator 3 days a week, running a bed and breakfast business, indulging in a spot of piano teaching, serving as a Reader in our benefice of 3 churches,- oh, and I was in the second year of ordination training. Getting to Swanwick was the nearest thing to a holiday I could see happening for a very long time…I was circling on my treadmill in true hamster fashion, and was certainly not generating much light in the process.
On the second day of the Conference, I was aware that a relationship with another delegate was beginning to become far too dominant to be manageable. Wherever I went, I seemed to bump into this person, who was friendly to the point of smothering, and it was driving me MAD. I found myself ducking into the ladies if she loomed in sight, and was pleased when I went into the main hall for the keynote speaker that day, to see that X was already settled, with no gaps anywhere near.
The speakers that morning were John and Olive Drane….and their talk touched places that nobody else had yet acknowledged during the conference. Olive has a ministry as a clown (now why is it that it’s only just struck me that 2 conferences running, the highlight of the planned programme for me has involved clowning…which I’ve always thought I disliked or feared? need to think about that, clearly…) and after sharing her own story via a moving series of dialogues with God, she invited anyone who wanted prayer to come and have a cross painted in grease-paint wherever felt right…
"Hands, forehead, eyes..." she suggested.
Can you imagine? A room full of Anglican clergy, mostly of a certain age (some clinging stubbornly to clerical black, despite the request that we dress informally while away) and a reasonable sprinkling of “approved” laity being invited to relate to a clown…in front of each other! There was a moment when it seemed that nobody would dare to move, but gradually people got to their feet. Some headed for the doors, but a long line began to form, and I found myself on the end of it. By the time I reached Olive, I knew what I wanted to pray about…
“I’m training for ministry…I have 3 children and too many jobs and I’m so busy I just can’t see the wood for the trees. Please paint the cross on my eyelids and ask God to help me focus on Him, the real purpose behind all this busy-ness”
Olive prayed, marked my eyelids, and I returned to my seat.
The session ended, and we trouped out for coffee. I did feel better…as if there was at least some possibility that I might survive the next few weeks at least. Perhaps I was getting some perspective? I decided to take my coffee outside. But, oh dear, there was X only a few yards away from me, and I’d definitely been seen. I went over , and as I approached, X dissolved into a pool of tears.
Only afterwards did I realise that I’d spent almost an hour there, listening, praying, being the sort of friend X had believed me to be. And the amazing thing? It felt entirely natural, right, unforced…I was able to love…to see the real person with all the pain and vulnerability exposed, and not the bundle of irritations that had preoccupied me before. God had heard my prayer for clearer vision, but had not answered it as I’d expected. Instead, God had lent me HIS eyes…for a while, I was able to see as He does. And yes, there were consequences.