Garlic and subversion

Surfacing now from a wonderful diocesan clergy retreat on Cumbrae led by Bishop Gordon Mursell, who was exploring the ‘farewell discourses’ of Jesus in John’s gospel.  On arrival I was nearly overwhelmed by the scent of wild garlic on the approach to the Cathedral – carpets of tiny white flowers exuding a continental smell that went well with the scorching sun.

Bishop Gordon’s addresses also had a really stimulating, pungent flavour to them.  I’ve often been a bit resistant to the apparently rambling hymn to love and intimacy with the divine that takes up chapters 13 – 17 of John.  Now I feel not only that I have some idea of their direction and dynamic, but that they are much more radical than I had perceived.

Of course, when John has Jesus talk about overcoming ‘the world’ in the sense of all that is hostile to God, it’s clear that he means Christianity is subversive and refuses to recognise as ultimate the claims of the emperor or any other humans system.  But we were invited to see the radical dimension of other elements of the discourse too.

For example, I had thought of ‘abiding and mutual indwelling’ in the light of knowing God through spiritual and mystical experience.  Bishop Gordon pointed out that this ‘knowing God at depth’ (cf. 17:3) is seeing the face of God in the poor.  And he encouraged us to pray big, aspirational prayers that praised God for changing the world – as Mary did in the Magnificat, long before it would ever happen.

Lots and lots more to absorb and digest;  lots of nourishment and encouragement;  and a real sense of belonging to an Order – the Order of Presbyters – who can live and learn and pray in community.  Somehow it works in silence, but doesn’t (for me) in clergy conferences.

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