The Broken Pot

(A parable of unknown origin, retold by Susan Wardell)

Once there was a woman who lived in a very hot, dry, place. Every day she had to walk a long distance from her house to the nearest well, to bring water back for her family. To do this, she used a large clay pot.

The pot had done this and other tasks for many years, but it was not a perfect vessel. In fact, it was quite broken, with cracks so large that as the woman was walking, the water would consistently leak out onto the dry ground. This happened to the extent that by the time she reached her home, she had only half the water left that she had travelled so far to get.

The pot was well aware of it’s brokenness, and it was deeply ashamed. One day it asked the woman miserably: “Why are you still trying to use me? I am broken!” When the woman said nothing, it persisted: “Can’t you see how my insufficiencies cost your family? I am not fit for the task that you have chosen me for.” And when her silence continued: “Why don’t you select a better pot; something more sturdy and more beautiful, that is not been damaged like I am? Something that will save you time and effort, that will do the job better than a broken vessel like me.”

The woman paused, and picked up the pot to carry it outside. The pot feared that now the time had come where the truth of it’s burdensomeness would finally be acknowledged. But now the woman replied:

“I see your brokenness, and I know well that my precious water leaks out onto the ground as we walk together. But look…” and she pointed back in the direction of the well. Now, at last, the pot saw that all along the sides of the dusty track a lovely garden was growing: full of flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

“These have been a blessing to my family every day” the woman told the pot. “Choosing you is no accident. It is because of your brokenness, not despite of it, that our journey has been made into something even more beautiful.”

Then they walked together again, as the pot let water fall like tears of joy… and all around them, life bloomed.

  • SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

A visual question

 

What is RADICAL?

 

 

 

 

What is SACRED?

 

 

 

 

 

Are the two the SAME thing?

 

 

 

When does the ORDINARY become both?

 

How should I approach the RADICAL?

.

.

..

How can I invite the SACRED?

 

 

 

 

How must my ORDINARY change

 

… if God is BOTH?

 

 

  • SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand
  • [Images sourced from pixabay.com]

Neuro-biology and “life abundantly”

Sometimes creation seems full of tiny miracles. I don’t often enough count my own body as one of them.

However earlier this week I was captivated by a video appearing in my newsfeed:

[Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hv1m2wnGQA. Video image: large sphere to left is pulled along something resembling a path, by a long ‘rope’ with two leg-like appendages which ‘march’ rhythmically].

That merry little trooper is (according to some scientists) myosin, dragging a ball of endorphins along an active filament into the inner part of the brain’s parietal cortex: “Happiness in action.”

I’m not sure the science is that straightforward, but what it reminded me is that my body, and perhaps especially my brain, is full of tiny miracles; a delicate biological symphony in motion.

When I think about the way that God has equipped us with bodies that can sense, translate, and process such a variety, such heights and depths, of sensation and emotion, I feel like it tells us something about God herself, and something about the human lives she hopes us to lead.

I have been pondering then, what it means in John 10:10, when Christ tells us he has come that we may “have life, and have it to the full” (NIV), or in another translation, have “a rich and satisfying life” (NLT), or another: to have life “more abundantly” (KJB).

I don’t believe in any way that personal happiness should be our sole goal in life. But what a generous God she indeed is, that bestows us with the capacity for such joys along the often difficult paths of the Kingdom.

Yet capacity is not the same as fulfilment of promise. And SO many things work to steal this from us (as John 10 also says).

As I’ve thought about this, I wanted to focus my prayerful response on those of us who right now feel that our brains are somehow broken… bent a bit… or just different in ways that are hard to understand:

May Jehovah Rapha (the God who Heals) shine gently into those hidden places.

May she write her story there, in the amazing bio-chemistry of our bodies.

May we be attentive to small miracles both outside and inside of us. 

  • SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Rain/God

The following is a reworking of the poem ‘Rain’ by Hone Tuwhare; words in bold are taken from the original poem.  If it’s not raining where you are as you read this, use this rain noise generator to help recreate the ambiance. 🙂 

Rain/God

I can hear you
making small holes
; piercing through
the silence
– when I calm myself enough to listen.
You are there.

If I were deaf,
(and often I am deaf to you,)
the pores of my skin
, my lungs, my eyes,
would open to you
and shut

and now you are within me,
You always are.
In every fibre, and pore, and cell
You are my source of life,
The water for my soul.

And I – as disconnected as I may be
should
always know you 
by the lick of you
as “heaven meets earth/ like a sloppy wet kiss,”
you love relentlessly and passionately
in this messy world.
And if I were blind to you, the days I can’t see you
as my own insecurities cloud my vision,
You would still be there.

You are in the steady
drum-roll sound
you make
, like the white noise frequency I need to tune in to
when the wind drops
, and I finally let you speak
to me.

But if I
should not hear
smell or feel or see
you

You would still
define me
disperse me
wash over me
God.

 

Emily changes her bio every time she writes a contribution. ‘Rain’ is one of her favourite poems, and she writes her own poetry at Emily On The Internet.

Lingering in the rain

Lingering in happiness

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground

where it will disappear–but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole’s tunnel;

and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

He is risen

The day where everything changes. Where our hope is planted.

Blooming from the darkest days of heart-torn, sky-rent sorrow.

A miracle: powerful, beautiful, touchable. He is risen.

On this day we read the story and “deep in wonder and full of joy” (Matthew 28:8) we say it again: he is alive, he is with us. He is risen.

Watch, listen, and read the scripture below:

[Video from National Geographic (via YouTube). Contents: against a dark background, a time-lapse sequence of colourful flowers opening from buds to full blooms]

Matthew 28 1-4 After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn’t move.

5-6 The angel spoke to the women: “There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.

“Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.”

8-10 The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb. They ran to tell the disciples. Then Jesus met them, stopping them in their tracks. “Good morning!” he said. They fell to their knees, embraced his feet, and worshiped him. Jesus said, “You’re holding on to me for dear life! Don’t be frightened like that. Go tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, and that I’ll meet them there.”

 

  • SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

 

Fruit, root, or fallow?

On Friday I sent an email to a colleague: "I hope your week was fruitful" I said. The phrase somehow got stuck in my thoughts as I reviewed my own week later that day.

Fruitful? Had my week born fruit?

Planning coursework? Tweaking a powerpoint for next week's class? Admin paperwork? What about the afternoons I spent on the lawn, in the sun, with my children? The conversations with friends? The laundry?

"I hope your week was fruitful". Smiley face. I had intended the phrase amicably, but turned back on myself it became accusatory... and somewhat antithetical to the lessons about seasons that have been hard-won for me, and yet are a cherished part of the grace I have found in God.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
- Eccelesiastes 3:1 (... and *Turn, turn, turn* Bob Dylan).

The season of fruit is only one of nature's seasons, and yet the other seasons are just as necessarily for the natural cycle. Even winter, when the ground lies fallow while restoring itself, is essential (and inevitable!) for the eventual harvest.

I have wrestled with and clung to this when the concrete limitations of my human heart, human body, have pushed up hard against the relentless pressures for productivity that the contemporary world provides.

Fruitful? No I couldn't wish this of every week. I found myself wondering laughingly if I could wish someone's week to be 'bud-ful' or 'seed-ful' or 'root-ful' instead:

Weeks to rest and gather strength..... weeks to consider carefully, plan and prepare for a job done well... weeks to invest in something, with hope, for the further-off future...... weeks to dig deeper down to the good stuff that nourishes... weeks to enjoy noticing and nurturing small things that are full of promise... weeks add slowly and graciously, step-by-step, to the growing whole...

...  these I wish for my colleagues, my friends, and for you. Surely they are just as important as the weeks we taste the tangible, finished products of our work.

Not every week is a fruit-ful one.

Nor is every type of fruit the visible, quantifiable, auditable sort that this contemporary ideological moment favours.  What about the 'fruit of the spirit?'

Did my week grow love? Reap joy? Sow peace? Did patience bud, gentleness take root, and faithfulness flower? Did self-control seed? Did I taste goodness and prepare the ground for kindness?

A different harvest altogether.

I contemplate another week now, and in this new sense I'm happy to write to you dear readers: "I hope your week will be fruitful" ... full of spiritual fruit, of seeds and buds, of rejuvenating soil and deepening roots. May you trust to God, the great gardener, to tend well to your life, in every season.
  • SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Music and Emotion

Heavily pregnant, I was living in a new city, with two children in tow, no house, no car and a really uncomfortable bed in a run-down motel. My husband and I walked into the meeting hall of the large Vineyard church we had started attending. A wall of sound came towards us, and the hairs on the back of my neck pricked up somehow.

“For all your goodness, I will keep on singing…
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find”, sang the congregation, the worship leaders, the instruments. It was loud, it was powerful, and I could not at that moment see ten thousand reasons to worship. I cried.

As I cried, all the little ways God had been caring for me came to mind: I had a permanent job, after years on fixed contracts; I had a huge maternity leave payout so I didn’t have to start that job for 6 months; I had years behind me of God-moments of care to draw on, including previous times moving and not having housing or cars. It was amazing, it was healing. People gathered around me and prayed for me — never asking me what was wrong, but just showing solidarity in the moment.

***

Several times in the last year, I have heard people in contemplative and intellectual traditions or circles of the church refer to pentecostal worship services as ‘psychological manipulation’. The grounds for this is that a style of worship with lots of planned atmosphere and high quality music works on the mind in a ‘false’ way, perhaps leading people to experience emotions of the group and believe they are feeling the Holy Spirit. As someone who had spent the two years before worshipping in a pentecostal church, I found this quite shocking. I found this shocking not because I didn’t know about group dynamics and emotional contagion, but because these commentators assumed that these were necessarily manipulation. It was new to me that mature and reflective Christians of a progressive slant could be blinded by what seemed to be fear.

I don’t know much about where those fears come from and how to make people feel more comfortable. But here’s what I know: great music is uplifting for the soul, and participating in great worship music is uplifting for our own souls and others. Music communicates far more than mere words — it does communicate emotion, and even inspire emotion. But our emotions are part of our full selves, and can be used in worship too. Even allowing ourselves to connect with the emotions of others could be a form of worship.

Think of the classic hymn, How Great Thou Art. The chorus begins after reflecting on the beauty of creation: “Then sings my soul…”, where the “soul” in that line soars above, as many voices gather together to affirm God’s creation. “…my saviour, God to Thee…” holds us up there, while “How great Thou art…” takes us down on the “art” as God reaches down to meet us. We couldn’t communicate that with a rational sermon. We could rarely sing that en masse without being moved, even if we lived in the middle of a concrete jungle, in the rain, with no forest for a hundred kilometres. We might sing the song with grief, then, or hope for change.

Maybe it could be called psychological manipulation, but God is God of psychology and the body, and appears to have made us responsive to music and emotion. Is it dangerous? Maybe, sometimes. But I am guessing for the average New Zealander, emotional over-the-topness is not our primary danger. We are much more in danger of privileging the mind, the rational, the individual, and to pull away from participation and emotion in groups.

Reflection

What would your worship look like, this week, if you allowed your emotions to come to the surface in music — either in celebration, or in need of healing? What would your fellowship group look like, if this were encouraged and space was made for this to happen? What resistances do you have to letting God use music to speak to your emotional needs?

Never Let Me Go

I clearly remember the first time I heard the song ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Florence + The Machine. I was on an airplane, scrolling through the available music on the in-flight  entertainment system, and I found their album Ceremonials. ‘Never Let Me Go’ was one of the most beautiful songs I’d ever heard, and if you’ve never heard it before, I encourage you to have a listen.

What struck me about this song was how spiritual it was. Just listen the lyrics of the chorus –

“ And the arms of the ocean are carrying me/ And all this devotion was rushing over me/ And the crashes are heaven for a sinner like me/ But the arms of the ocean deliver me”

Although  this song was not specifically written from a religious perspective, Florence has talked about the hymnal influences that inspired this song. “The gospel thing comes from my obsession with hymns. I’m drawn to anything that has a hymnal quality, be it spiritualized or dusty old albums by Georgian choirs.” (Crave

This connection between spirituality and the ocean can be seen worldwide. In many polytheist religions, the ocean has its own god. In Christian faith, it is the setting of many best-known bible stories. We sing songs such as ‘Oceans’, using the sea as a metaphor for our relationship with God in troubling times. And when you’re out at the beach, it’s not hard to see why there’s such a strong connection – the ocean is a powerful force. It has both the power to sustain life and to take it away. It has provided for many cultures over centuries, yet it has also been the source of many disasters. In a world where humans fight to control as much as possible, the ocean is a force we can only revere.

In the album’s introduction, Florence talks about her fascination with drowning, “or rather the idea of jumping off and being enveloped by something.” This experience of the ocean, the complete envelopment and surrender, reflects the way in which I want to drown myself in God.

Submersion involves surrender. When I submerge myself in water I surrender my breath, and perhaps it should seem illogical, even insane, that we would willingly plunge ourselves beneath the surface. Yet it is in these moments that I feel the most human – aware of every sense, of the power within my body. And I trust – in the water, in myself – that when my lungs burn for oxygen, I can return to the surface and breathe.

God is like the ocean – in my moment of complete surrender and submersion, I feel human, trusting with each breath and each struggle that I am submerged in that it will not conquer me and I will resurface. This link between God and submersion is best seen in the act of baptism. We submerge ourselves in an act of surrender, as a symbol of our faith in God.

I want to live a life of surrender. I want to drown in God’s love. I want to feel it wash over me; I want to embrace the waves and trust that when I feel myself going under, I will resurface and breathe again.

Emily studies English and Media Studies at the University of Auckland. She has been a Florence + The Machine fan since 2015, and a water enthusiast for as long as she can remember.
Emily on the Internet