I picked up a copy of Tom Harpur’s book “Water Into Wine” before Christmas and began reading it today. I admit it is not a book for the faint of heart as it challenges most conventional conservative teachings of the church. This is a follow up to a book he wrote a few years ago called “The Pagan Christ” which garnered much attention and much debate.
I have not read a lot of it yet but what I have read is quite interesting. The main thrust of this work is that deconstructing myth does not diminish the story of Jesus, does not diminish our faith but on the contrary gives us an empowering vision of the gospels. It is a vision that sets us free to understand the mystery of the Divine and how the Divine is at work in us in the world today.
I wanted to share these words with you that he offers after challenging birth narrative as we know it; “…all the rites and practices of the churches at Christmastime are truly efficacious and meaningful only if the ‘saviour Jesus’ is understood as a symbol of the glorious ‘virgin’ birth within ourselves. The joyful message is that Transcendence has broken into history and become part of every one of us. What we need is to have the eyes to see this glory within and all around. It is when we truly recognize who and what we really are that we are born again.”
Pretty good stuff really. I think that the very idea of incarnation is best appreciated when we appreciate what a large part we play in the unfolding of the story of God’s love for this world. In many ways we cast off our responsibilities as a people of God when we make incarnation only about the baby Jesus in a quite manger two thousand years ago. Imagine what we can do when we embrace the idea that the Divine, the Holy, the Transcendent is in the person beside us. Imagine what we could accomplish if we took the time to step outside the box that the church has built around us to embrace the Divine within us to take responsibility for being Light and Love for others.
In the last few days of last week there was a lot of activity at St. Mark’s by-the-Lake. Just before Christmas we had to say farewell to an eighty-eight year old parishioner. Frank was a vet from WWII and was husband to Rose Marie and Father to Cathy. As we approached the birth narrative on Christmas Eve I was privileged to see the birth of Life and Love in the darkness of death. The Divine was present in the love of a daughter at her father’s bedside. I had witnessed that same Divine presence in a father who in reflecting on his pending death expressed Love for life, for comrades and more importantly for his wife, and for his daughter. On Christmas Eve I was privileged to be at church twice with about two-hundred and fifty friends. In worship we were able to sing of the Love that we came to celebrate. On Christmas day we were present to that expression of Love again. We baptised two babies, Braydon and Aidan. If there is a need to be reminded of ‘Transcendence breaking into history and becoming part of every one of us,’ looking into the face of beautiful babies who have all of the innocence that God intends for all of us. We fished church on Christmas Day with surprise wedding vows between Aidan’s parents. In Liz and Matthew’s expression of love for each other and the great joy in the surprise from family and friends, there was the Transcendent God. On Saturday we said our formal farewell to Frank at the funeral home. As his daughter Cathy spoke, we could hear in a daughter`s words of love, the presence of the Divine in abundance. In worship on Sunday we were gain proclaiming our love for God and God`s love for us. In all of that, I wonder if we take time to realize who and what we really are. Do we realize that we are the people of God? In our hearts and minds lives and unmistakable presence of the Holy. If we seek and serve God in others we might come to know how very reborn we can truly be.
I`ll read on in the very controversial book. People like Harpur have the ability to keep us reading – they push the envelope so far that we read as much sometimes in disagreement as we do in agreement. The Good News is that it gives people like me pause to read, to pray, to struggle and to discern who God is and How God lives around me in my life and on my journey. That is a good thing indeed as we prepare for the New Year. So I prepare for that New year with the words of G.K. Chesterton on my mind; “The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.”
On another note – this is the time of year when we like to sing Auld Lang Syne. Robert Burns great poem has been sung for hundreds of years to an old folk tune. A few months ago I introduced a version of the Lord’s Prayer at our Sunday morning mass that used the same tune. It was not recieved real well by some. I found that surprising. We have sung Amazing Grace to the tune of "In the Jungle, the Mighty jungle – no problem – The Our Father to a 300 year old folk tune that has been used in many settings around the world? – apparently not. I had heard it sung at our clergy confernce and found it very moving. It was a setting done by Sir Cliff Richards and titled ‘The Millenium Prayer.’ I guess the thought was that there is something not sacred about putting together a tune that we associate with New Year’s celebrations and the Lord’s Prayer. I can appreciate that. It really was something special for a special Sunday. the hope was that we might hear the words fresh and new. In stead it became more of a lightening rod for some, which was sadly not what was intended. I would say that it might be ok for us on New Year’s Eve to think about our faith while we celebrate. For me singing that tune and praising God at the same moment really need not be a bad thing. It was ironic to me that those who have embraced Hockey Jersey Sunday and the like would get out of sorts over a very old tunes whose orgins predate Robert Burns even. It was again a good excersise in that many folks talked that Sunday about how they feel about the Lord’s Prayer. I bring this up now because tomorrow we will be singing Auld Lang Syne. If you pause the music up top and click play on the youtube video below you can hear Cliff Richards rendering of the Our Father. When we sing Auld Lang Syne tomorrow evening maybe we can sing in praise of God, while praising our abilty to raise a drink for the year gone and drink for the year ahead. We may not be comfortable singing a tune from our New Year’s even celebrations at church – I ask – how comfortable would we be singing the our Father at our New Year’s parties?
How about a verse of each at this years party?