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A Kind of Return by Jo James

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 03, 2015 1:27 pm    Post subject: A Kind of Return by Jo James Reply with quote

A kind of return
by Jo James

what a long gap - between Whitsun and September, no design in this, just too busy to fulfil my intention to make available each week the message/address or sermon of that Sunday morning service. Well, I'll begin again with this post from the service on Sunday 30th Aug.

The poem I read today is by the Argentine poet and novelist Jorge Luis Borges. Borges was a genius in my opinion he was one of the first people to identify the idea that all stories share a common ancestry, and in the poem we heard today Borges is considering some of the greek stories that provide a contextual underpinning to our western civilisation. I cant say the phrase western civilisation without thinking of that story about Gandhi:

When asked what did he think of western civilisation he said it would be a good idea.

Anyway I digress.

These Greek stories, of Ulysses, for example and the journey he undertook from the battle of Troy home to Ithaca his home are the stories that were the contemporary currency for the Jewish writers of the Gospels, especially for John the writer of the fourth, some say the most mystical Gospel. According to Paul Tillich The Greek mind was pre- occupied by the idea of Truth; what it was and how it could be found, and in Johnís Gospel we hear this question resonating. 'I am the truth' Jesus says according to John. What is Truth? John has Pilate ask, and then has the Roman Pilate walk away without waiting for an answer - which would have been unthinkable to a Greek!

The Heraclitus mentioned in the poem is the philosopher who proposed that we can never return to the same river. Firstly because the river will have flowed on and the water we return to is not the same water but also because we will no longer be the same, our life experiences will have changed us.

The story of Ulysses return to Ithaca is called the Odyssey, the journey is a long and perilous one and when he returns things dont go quite so well as one might wish. So Ulysses ideal of the place he was returning to turns out to be tragically quite wrong and so it is the journey itself which is the crucial thing in the Homeric tale.

Anyway its a great poem and a difficult one so Iím going to share it with you again:

The Art of Poetry
Jorge Luis Borges

To gaze at a river made of time and water
and remember Time is another river.
To know we stray like a river
and our faces vanish like water.

To feel that waking is another dream
that dreams of not dreaming and that the death
we fear in our bones is the death
that every night we call a dream.

To see in every day and year a symbol
of all the days of man and his years,
and convert the outrage of the years
into a music, a sound, and a symbol.

To see in death a dream, in the sunset
a golden sadness--such is poetry,
humble and immortal, poetry,
returning, like dawn and the sunset.

Sometimes at evening there's a face
that sees us from the deeps of a mirror.
Art must be that sort of mirror,
disclosing to each of us his face.

They say Ulysses, wearied of wonders,
wept with love on seeing Ithaca,
humble and green. Art is that Ithaca,
a green eternity, not wonders.

Art is endless like a river flowing,
passing, yet remaining, a mirror to the same
inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
and yet another, like the river flowing.

Borges, touches on themes which I also want to reflect on, although the poem is immense and I wont be able to touch on a fraction of all that Borges does.

One of the great ideas of the Odyssey which becomes fundamental to Greek thought and by extension Jewish though (and by extension our thought ) is the idea of this return journey, the idea of turning again.
I know I ve already spoken about the motif at the end of Markís Gospel when the figure in white who is found in the tomb on the morning after the crucifixion asks the women to return to Galillee. Some academics think this is a coded way of telling the reader to go back to the beginning of the gospel, to start re reading. like the women in the tomb its ok to be unsure to be undecided just go back and read it againÖ

And I know I ve already shared with you that story of a friend who was told that the essential teaching of all religions is start again.

The Bible begins and ends in a garden, from Eden to Gethsemane, the garden is the image of paradise; a green eternity, an eternal return
Perhaps I am thinking of a lot of these things, again, because we ve come to a turning point in my ministry here. I took up my appointment one year ago. as Borges says we see in every day and year a symbol of all the days of man and his years, and perhaps that is what is happening for me. Let me read for you a little bit of a sermon that I preached here in august last year.

This is the fourth consecutive Sunday of my new ministry;

In the Scriptures I think it is everywhere apparent that God is the force of liberation; God is a liberating force, the perfect love that casts out fear. I think that another motif we can perceive equally clearly from our readings of the Bible is that freed from fear, from captivity, from idolatry and other forms of slavery those close to God are identifiable by their hospitality. its clear in the Bible that God's gift is freedom and in freedom we can act, we are free to act with compassion. ..to give freely; to be gracious, to be hospitable, to prepare a welcome. If freedom is the gift we are given generosity is the gift we return. I'm told that the injunction to do unto others as you would have them do unto you is an injunction common to all ethical traditions, and it is present in some form in all forms of religion. It could be said that it is the human response to the awareness of God's presence in our lives.

And that is what the relevance of this call to openess, generosity, hopitality and grace is in our context. Because I want to call all those who attend this chapel to join me in the ministry that we do together; the offering that we make of this chapel this place of sanctuary is all our work together.

How would it be if we were to receive newcomers here with a welcome that says this place is a gift I ve been given, and it is given to me so that I can share it and for no other purpose. This home is mine only so that I can make it yours.

We begin from the moment we recognise that truly we are all in the condition of the stranger, the visitor, and do unto others as we would be done by, even though there may be none to join us, still we will prepare the table in readiness, we will create that attitude of grace which is our real inheritance.

Thats the sermon I preached here a year ago.
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