Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
The last time I preached here was on the occasion of Laura’s baptism, when I had the opportunity to mention one of Laura’s musical heroes, Tori Amos a “poet steeped in language”.
On the V-
What Amos calls “true inspiration” corresponds to what Paul describes as “being known”. One commentator refers to a “strange passivity” (James Allison). It’s not just a matter of apprehending inspiration as such, but, as Paul points out, it’s about compassion. It’s about love and the way that love informs and transforms knowledge the way that knowledge (of idolatry, for instance) is transfigured as wisdom (concern for others in their particular vulnerability).
Being in relationship trumps being right. If “trumps” is the right word.
Paul is responding to a letter from the Corinthians who boast about their knowledge of spiritual things. He writes: “We all possess knowledge. But knowledge puffs up, whereas love builds up. You may think you know something, but you still won’t know it the way you ought. But anyone who loves God is known completely by God.”
Strange passivity, indeed. You have to be willing to listen. Indeed.
On Friday I conducted a funeral service for a man called Bob Jarvis. Bob the builder, from Yorkshire. I mentioned him also in a homily just before I took leave last month. I’d married Bob and Helen six years ago, and caught up with them recently following Bob’s cancer diagnosis and time as a patient at the Sacred Heart hospice in Darlinghurst. Bob’s funeral was held at the Eastern Suburbs Crematorium in Botany.
I arrived early and revised my notes. I felt that I was prepared but I also felt overwhelmed. I knew how devastated Helen was. She and Bob were not really religious in any institutional sense and I knew that Bob, especially, was wary of religious language and ritual. I’d decided not to wear my clerical shirt, but to wear a tie I’d bought in Melbourne on the day of Bob’s passing.
Inside the chapel I placed my notes at the rostrum and rehearsed the procedure for closing the sheer curtains in front of the casket. I made sure there were tissues and cups of water at the rostrum.
Family members, including Helen and her sisters and brothers, nephews and a niece, arrived. Bob’s daughter, Sue, arrived last of all, just in time for the service. She was distraught and made several attempts to enter the chapel before settling on a pew up the front.
I did my best to read the words I’d prepared. To be mindful of Helen and Sue and the rawness of their grief. I read a letter from Bob’s “heartbroken” family in England. Helen gave an impassioned eulogy. She recounted first meeting Bob in Bali when she signed up for his scuba diving class. She was “out of her depth” but Bob took her by the hand and led her to the safety of shallow waters.
We listened to Rod Stewart’s “You’re in My Heart, You’re in My Soul”
and the Gospel reading was Mark 12: 29-
During the Committal Sue returned a second time to the casket and remained there weeping as the curtains closed.
It was not then that I felt I’d contributed anything much at all. If “contributed” is the right word. Feeling exhausted, really, strained and drained, I went with the family to the reception room for afternoon tea.
An hour and a half later, things were quite different. I was still there. I had spoken with Sue about collecting some of Bob’s ashes for a ceremony in Bali. I had joined in conversation with a few family members, including the children of Helen’s sister Ann Marie, who had travelled from Canberra. I had shared a cup of tea and a sandwich with one of Helen’s co-
“You may think you know something, but you still won’t know it the way you ought. But anyone who loves God is known completely by God.” Strange passivity. You have to be willing to listen.
Whatever ministry means, it’s not so much knowing as being known. As with ministry, care, love, creativity so with life itself. It’s about listening, responding, believing, trusting. I have a new working definition of religious life: love and wait for something to happen.
There’s another layer to this reflection. It was only when a friend asked me how I was feeling following Bob’s funeral that I understood something about what had happened to me, within me, through me and around me. That I experienced this “epiphany”.
There is discernment here we can call discerning the presence of a Christ whose power/authority has nothing to do with rivalry (the anxious desires we ordinarily mimic) and everything to do with liberty with the exorcism of all that possesses, inhibits and diminishes us.
Here’s how one commentator puts it, alerting us again to Tori Amos’ insight that inspiration comes from beyond one’s self.
the other who is prior to us [God] is not in rivalry with us, and we don’t need to possess who we are as though we would lose it if we didn’t grab it. There is not a scarcity of being or of regard from the other, against which we need to protect ourselves. And so we find ourselves being discovered and known in just the same sense as a really first-
To shift key slightly, but only very slightly: what would it look like to imagine the Eucharist as the body language of God come into our midst? Wouldn’t it be simply ... accurate?
When have you experienced this kind of liberating and “strange passivity”? How has your sense of knowledge or self-