Thursday, 22 September 2016

Banksie. Red Balloon.

I am in Hamilton, meeting with the bishops of the church. We are housed in a travel hotel right beside the airport. There's a conference centre, and a travel hotel type of restaurant, and standard travel hotel types of rooms. And very good company.

I woke early with one of those thoughts that I should have noticed years ago. Jesus Christ. His first name identifies him as a particular man, a first Century Jewish man with a pretty ordinary first Century Jewish name, Joshua. His second name is a kind of honorific, denoting one who has been anointed. He is (in Greek), the one who has received chrism, oil. The Hebrew equivalent is Messiah, which, again, means "the anointed one." Anointing in the First Century was a common courtesy for honoured guests, but more significantly it was ( and is) the ritual pouring of oil as a kind of ordination, performed on someone set aside for a great task. Kings are anointed, and priests. The person doing the anointing is always someone authoritative: a prophet or a priest, someone who has God's own authority to perform such a task. The person being anointed has oil poured on their head and sometimes the breast and hands; the seemly parts of the body. So, Jesus is the anointed one. So who anointed him? The Gospels tell us, in a story that is repeated in all the Gospels. The details change a bit with each telling, but the essence is the same; Jesus was anointed - against every more of his culture - by a woman. Who could ever argue against the ordination of women once they had noticed that?  Further, he was anointed, at least, so Luke tells us, by a woman of pretty questionable personal virtue. He was anointed not on his head or hands or breast, but on the part of his body regarded, in his culture, as most repugnant: his feet. He was anointed not before he sat on a throne, but before he was nailed to a lump of wood.  The action is so offensive the good people protest, and this is the last straw for Judas Iscariot, who, upon witnessing this, goes off in disgust to seek the righteous people and betray Jesus to them. Here, in this name which I don't go a day without speaking, is the whole scandalous upside down and inside out Gospel. Christ.
We spent this morning at Houchen retreat house. I walked the beautiful gardens, looked at the bedrooms where I have stayed a hundred times and the meeting rooms where I have led retreats, interviewed potential ordinands and run workshops for accepted ones. I found the labyrinth laid out by my friend and supervisor Paul when he was the warden of the retreat house. It is mown into the grass of a gentle slope, skirting a tree and a flower garden. I walked it, noting the simple, repeating pattern of this little journey, aware of the views out over the Waikato and of the garden, seeing each from slightly different angles with each turning. I finished and found in myself a deep, deep longing to make another journey.
Sue Pickering was with me years ago in the group which developed a programme for training spiritual directors. With several books to her credit, she is now a sought after spiritual director and retreat leader. She is guiding us today, and at the start of the session, she uses a Banksie picture of a little girl grasping for a red balloon. After talking about red balloons a week or so ago, I feel a small prickle on my spiritual spine. Someone is trying to get my attention. At the end of the day she talks about anointing, and asks us to anoint one another. Yes. Definitely trying to get my attention. And succeeding. 

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