Hunger – By Melanie Clark Pullen

This morning’s post in the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For? is by Melanie Clark Pullen. She is a theatre and film artist, writer, wife, mother and pilgrim following the Way of Christ. Today’s reflection was first posted here.

 

It is said that Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights and that he did battle with the devil in preparation for his ministry. To honour this fast and to prepare our hearts for the festival of Easter with its horror of crucifixion and triumph of resurrection, Christians traditionally attempt abstinence of some sort or another over the period of Lent.

As kids we used to give up chocolate or fizzy drinks. As I grew and bucked against the legalism of my evangelical upbringing, I let the tradition go for a few years. Then I began to see the value of having a specific time to purge myself of some bad habits and I would use the time to attempt to give up cigarettes or wine, usually with laughable results.

Over the past five years, I’ve gone through the dark night of the soul, down into the valley of the shadow of death with its deafening silence. I’ve emerged limping and bruised, clutching my blessing like Jacob. The soft and gentle, flabby spirituality of my youth has been stripped from me and I’m down to the bones. My soul’s lean now, and it hungers like never before. The chocolate coated answers I used to gleefully swallow, the toffee that kept my jaw clamped, won’t stay down now.

And all my old addictions sit like predators ready to feed on my fear. We’ve been eying each other up for some time now. I’ve tried to ignore the gnawing sense that battle is about to commence, that these false friends will have to be overcome sooner or later.

I hunger for my most true, most authentic self, the God given gold underneath; the released spirit who, free from the constraints of fear, filled with perfect love can be of some use in this world. I hunger for the starvation of my ego; an obese and stuck thing. I hunger for transformation.

So it’s with a wry smile that I state the following: I’m going to spend the Lenten season in a wilderness of obscurity, cut off from friends and acquaintences on Facebook and Twitter. Too often, the bite size conversations, the pithy comments, the broadcasting of my likes and dislikes nibble away at my time and eat away at authentic connection. My ego gorges on the attention or weeps over the lack of it. It’s time to cut it off from its greedy need to be seen. I’ll  try to blog about my Lenten journey, though there’s an argument that might be replacing one addiction with another.  I’ll also be starving myself of other addictive behaviours to honour the hunger in my soul.

Goodness knows what kind of person I’ll be when the sun rises on Easter morning. I can see my addictions salivating at the thought of my failure. I may stumble, but in Christ I have already overcome.

Parousia: Perchance to Dream #2 by Melanie Clark Pullen

Jesus Statue

Jesus Is Coming What Do We Expect

This morning’s post is #2 of a post by Melanie Clark Pullen. #1 was posted yesterday on this blog. The entire post originally appeared on her blog as Parousia 

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We are all waiting for something to happen, something to change and if we’re honest, there’s probably some of us who wish Jesus would hurry up and come back, snatch us all up so that we can live happily ever after with him in Heaven. What is he waiting for?

Except is that really what the second coming is all about?

The Greek word used for the Second coming of Jesus is Parousia, which is used to suggest the arrival of a royal or important person; it suggests the official presence of the person. The implication is that when Jesus returns it will be for us to enjoy the arrival here of his official presence in a way we don’t know yet. And this suggests something different to the popular idea that we will go somewhere else to be with Jesus.

I have to say that I’m with the English theologian N. T. Wright in his challenge of the assumption that when Jesus returns it is to take us away from this world into another. Rather, he suggests in his book Surprised by Hope, that Jesus’ return will be about making all things new here on earth and to raise us to a gloriously transformed new and bodily life.

To quote Bishop Wright:

“There will come a time, which might indeed come at any time, when, in the great renewal of the world which Easter itself foreshadowed, Jesus himself will be personally present, and will be an agent and model of the transformation that will happen both to the whole world and also to believers.” (p148)

What’s more, the renewal inaugurated by Jesus’ resurrected body continues, albeit incompletely, here and now as those who follow Christ are empowered by the Spirit to usher in God’s sovereign rule of justice, peace and love. This is what we pray for when we pray ‘ Thy will on earth as in heaven.’

It’s the ‘now and not yet’ tension that we live with as Christians. We know that Jesus will make all things new, indeed he is already transforming us into his likeness here and now but this work will not be made complete until he comes again.

Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, a church that was full of division and strife as it attempted to live out the transforming life of Christ in a city devoted to the worship of idols, lays out what he believes about the resurrection of Christ and of when he comes again in glory. The believers were waiting anxiously for this supposed second coming and beginning to doubt that it would happen.

Paul tells them in chapter 1, that God,

“will keep [them] strong to the end.”

And that they

“do not lack any spiritual gift as [they] eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed”

And there is that word parousia again – Christ’s revealing, his arrival is what we are waiting for but while we wait we have been given everything we need to bring about God’s Kingdom here on earth. That’s what Pentecost was about. That’s the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What does God’s kingdom look like then?

Who does the King care about? Where is his heart?

Which brings us back to Christmas and a teenage pregnancy, a man whose wife is having a child he knows is not his own, a baby boy born in a place where animals are given shelter, a family forced to flee from the threat of violence, to live as refugees in exile only to return to a land under occupation to live as second class citizens, oppressed by an empire whose only goal is domination and expansion.

Jesus’ whole life is lived on the margins, with those deemed unworthy, unwanted, unwell. His whole message, his manifesto is that these are the blessed, to the least of these belong the Kingdom of God. It is for these that he came, for these that he will make all things new. He is the Prince of Peace.

Listen to Psalm 80

Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock; you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us.

Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.

The world cries out in pain and anguish. We only have to think about Somalia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya. We only have look closer to home at people losing their jobs and homes, those suffering addiction and depression, those falling through the cracks in the system for whom Christmas will be the loneliest time in the year.

There is a collective cry around the world through the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, saying ‘enough is enough’, we are tired of being down trodden, tired of being exploited, there must be more to this.

And we cry, Marana Tha! Come, Lord Jesus! Restore us, O God, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.

Parousia is the Greek for arrival, presence. The latin term is Adventus.

What are we waiting for?

We have this treasure in jars of clay – the hope that all things will be made new when Jesus comes again but while we wait, there is transformation, restoration, healing and justice by the power of His Holy Spirit for all who call on his Name.

We can start to live this hope now, to share this hope now, to work for justice and peace now, to give generously, to share graciously, to love extravagantly now and share the good news of God’s Kingdom with those whose hope is thin on the ground. And we are promised that we “do not lack any spiritual gift as we eagerly wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

What are we waiting for?

Parousia: Perchance to Dream #1 by Melanie Clark Pullen

Have you got the Christmas tree up yet?

Have you got the Christmas tree up yet?

Today’s posts come from Melanie Clark Pullen. I decided to break her reflection into two parts because it so rich with imagery and thoughts about the second coming of Christ. Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow morning. Or if you can’t wait visit the original post on her blog Parousia; Perchance to Dream .

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14 days till Christmas.

What are we waiting for?

Have you done your Christmas shopping?

Are you prepared? Have you the Christmas tree up? The turkey pre-ordered? Have you checked the Christmas tree lights to check what bulbs aren’t working?

Are you having palpitations at the very thought of everything you have to do before December the 25th? I have recurring nightmares of it being ten to midnight on Christmas eve and realising that I’ve forgotten to get one of my family a Christmas present.

Christmas is such a stressful time. We’re cajoled into being jolly and merry and spending time with family many of us spend the rest of the year avoiding. We’re lured into buying more stuff for people who don’t need it. If I’m given one more box of bath salts or hand cream… I mean, just what are you trying to tell me? Then there’s the wrapping and packaging that, no matter how carefully it is put together gets ripped off in a matter of seconds and, at best, gets recycled and at worse goes into land fill!

Then there’s the guilt. All the charities come out with their demands that we don’t forget the homeless, the hungry, the neglected donkeys at this special time of year. There is so much need. We can’t possibly be expected to donate money to every worthy cause.

And the travelling. Who’s travelling to visit family or friends this Christmas? Last year, the snow nearly scuppered our trip north to spend Christmas with my father in law. I was stressed the whole week leading up to the drive. And there was the worry about traffic, driving on slippery roads with two small children in the back.

Christmas. Who needs it?

Every year I make a vain attempt to focus on the reason for the season but inevitably I get sucked into the vortex which is the commercial secular holiday that Christmas has become and it sometimes feels like I’m waiting for the whole darn thing to be over!

What are we waiting for?

Christmas – When the God who breathed stars into existence entered into our broken and blistered world as a vulnerable new born baby.

Christmas – When the Creator became the created.

Christmas – the Incarnation – two worlds colliding in spectacular simplicity and heartfelt humility.

But that’s Christmas.

Sunday was the third Sunday of Advent. This season is the beginning of the liturgical year when as followers of the Risen Christ we turn our attention not only to the first incarnation of God but the second coming.

If I’m honest, until recently when anyone mentioned the Second Coming my thoughts would go to a horrible movie from the 70s called A Thief in the Night, or the Left Behind series of books which imagine a dramatic rapture of Christians out of the world which is left behind to endure a horrific time of tribulation. When we think of the Second Coming, we might think of Armageddon, the End Times, a final Judgement. All in all, it’s something we don’t think about very often, much less talk about in polite society. I bet, I’m already making some people squirm.

Certainly much of this imagery is drawn from the prophecy attributed to Jesus in Mark’s gospel:

The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth and the ends of the heavens.
Mark 13:26,27

The early Christians expected Jesus’ return within their life time. The first disciples had witnessed the resurrected Christ and taught his return to make all things new was immanent. So apostles like Paul urged the believers to be always ready for when the Lord would be ‘revealed’ – as we see in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

The piece in Mark has been suggested to have been a reference to the fall of Jerusalem in AD70 when many would have seen it as the end of the world. And in the centuries since there have been predictions of Armageddon when it’s felt that things can not get much worse and things inevitably must end. This year there was a very public predicition that the world would end in May by American pastor Harold Camping. When it didn’t, he recalculated for October. He has since retired from ministry, disappointed and disillusioned, albeit admitting that God is sovereign and that he has been humbled by his experience.

Outside of our own faith there’s a belief that the year 2012 has a strong spiritual significance and that, if not the end of the world, it marks the beginning of a new consciousness.

Rest for the Soul – A Lenten Reflection by Melanie Clark Pullen

Today’s guest post comes from Melanie Clark Pullen.   Melanie lives in Ireland with her husband and two children. She has worked as an actor for over ten years in television and theatre in the UK and Ireland. She also wrote and directed the award winning Irish language short film Marion agus an Banphrionsa (Marion and the Princess). She is part of the online arts/faith/culture community Dreamers of the Day (www.dreamtoday.org) and is also in training to be a local preacher in the Methodist Church. She contributes to The Master’s Artist, featuring writers from many different Christian traditions musing on writing and faith, every other Friday.

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Where do you find rest for your soul?

Rest for the soul.

I’m working on a short film this week and I love getting to be with other actors and spend time on a film set. You could say I was as happy as a kid in muck.

Inevitably, when actors get together we end up talking about work we have done, experiences we’ve had with other directors. It struck me this time round that both myself and the other actor on the shoot were carefully creating a narrative of our creative lives in an effort to present ourselves in the best possible light. It’s important to get the mix right. Too much emphasis on the highlights and you give the impression that you’re proud and full of yourself. On the other hand, if you only complain about the disappointments, you may make the other person question the validity of calling yourself an actor in the first place.

I am so very tired of fashioning a positive spin out of my years as an actor and writer. We spend so much energy building identities for ourselves. It’s something to cling to when we meet other people. It’s almost like acting in real life, building a persona to hide behind, secreting our true selves away to some darkened corner of our psyche.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is recorded as saying “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

If we are burdened by the constant pressure to maintain a persona that is pleasing to the world, following Jesus means emptying ourselves so that he can fill us with the abundance of himself. When we are full of God, what else can we be but a blessing to those around us? When we are ignited by the Spirit, released to be who God created us to be then we are freed from the oppressive tyranny of Other People’s Opinions.

Then our work, be it writing, painting, acting or music comes from a place of peace, a place of service, a place of worship. Following Jesus transforms us not into vacant clones with plastic smiles with all the right boxes ticked but beautiful, unique and free spirits whose art is a blessing to the world.

 


Jesus Is Near – How Do We Draw Close? Melanie Clark Pullen

This afternoon’s post comes from Melanie Clark Pullen an actress and writer living in Ireland with her husband and two small children. She blogs every fortnight at The Master’s Artist and intermittently at her own blog Perchance to Dream where she explores spirituality and creativity. She is part of the online arts/faith/culture community Dreamers of the Day and dreams of facilitating a creative retreat centre and a collective of artists who make work that is good for the soul.

 

Jesus is near – how do we draw close?

Recent events in our political and economic life here in Ireland and an unexpected cold snap in the weather, mean the Irish people are facing a very dark, dismal winter. After fifteen years of prosperity, it seems we’re looking at returning the austerity of the 1980’s only this time, religion will not be the comfort it once was. What with clerical abuse scandals and a broad disconnect with the people, the church, in all its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms, has never had less of a mandate to offer comfort.

And yet, and yet…

Jesus is near.

I wonder will this Christmas be the time when we stop stuffing the stockings with things we can no longer afford and start to meditate on the person behind the holiday. With people looking back with longing for the good old days of the Celtic Tiger and shrinking with dread from our cold future of austerity, I wonder can we finally let go and be present in the moment with all of its hope and pain, in the place where I AM is resplendent in glory?

I gave birth to a little boy a couple of months ago and went through a natural labour. My pains started in the middle of the night and continued on for ten hours, increasing in intensity and momentum. Every time a surge came upon me, I imagined myself scaling a mountain to its peak and then as the pain subsided I breathed deeply to relax and rest between the contractions. I didn’t resist the pain, I tried not to tense up, I went with the rhythm of the labour. Eventually I entered what a friend calls that ‘cathedral of pain’ and delivered my son into the world.

The beauty of the experience is something that will stay with me forever and I believe this is because I did not wish myself into the past of the pregnancy or the future of the birth. I managed to stay present, moment by moment. Sure, it hurt but I got through it and can look back on it with joy.

I’m taking that experience with me into Advent. It seems appropriate as I ponder Mary and her impending labour and the birth of the Christ child. Each day that draws us closer to Christmas, I set the intention to enter into the present moment. While the newspapers recount tales of fury and despondency, I share my daughter’s excitement at discovering the wonders of hot chocolate and marshmallows. While friends talk about emigrating, I see a blueness in the sky that I hadn’t realized was so beautiful. With my own future as a professional theatre and film maker in the balance, I breathe in the sweet, milky smell of my baby son’s skin. And I am thankful, and I am content.

Because all we have is this moment, the moment where I AM exists, where Jesus is near.