Word…Flesh…Word…

Another event I was involved in at the conference I mentioned in the last post involved the poet Martin Daws.

I was struck by the way that, as with many great poets, when Martin performs one of his poems he doesn’t just use his voice but his whole body. Watching him reminded me of a phrase from the beginning of John’s gospel:

‘…the Word became flesh and lived among us.’  (John 1v.14)

As Martin performed I saw words becoming embodied. He breathed life into them and they lifted up from the page like a swarm of butterflies; lively, unpredictable and unsettling. 

We sought to play with this idea at an evening event in the theatre. John’s gospel sees the Word as the eternal. John (or whoever wrote the gospel) says ‘the Word was with God and the Word was God’. For John this Word becomes embodied and is made flesh in Jesus. At the event that night I made a figure out of clay to represent the body of Jesus and then we invited people to come and take a piece of the clay, a piece of the flesh, and mould it into a word. A word to complete the sentence: ‘Flesh means…’.

We then gathered the words together and scattered them around Martin as he sat on the stage. I felt a like the sorcerer’s apprentice collecting the raw materials for magic and offering them to the one who knew how to weave the spell.

ImageAs we watched then Martin typed and the cauldron of words became a poem. With the poem complete Martin stood up and performed, embodying (or re-embodying) the words that we had moulded and offered to him. And then we spoke the words together, the words embodied in community.

Word made flesh, we take the flesh and remake a word that emerges from our experience, we offer the word to the community, the words we offer merge and are shaped by a wise soul and then re-emerge, embodied once more.

Everyday we speak and live the rhythm: Word…flesh…word…flesh…. All the words embodied in our lives, heard by others, changed by others, re-emerging as their words to be heard again and embodied again. It is a spiral of creativity and community that I find inspiring but also challenging. Because whether I like it or not I am responsible for part of that rhythm and my part in it may determine whether this swarm of living words that changes the world spirals up into the light or elsewhere to somewhere darker and less life-giving.

Here is the poem that emerged from that night:

 

Struggle In my body to touch you 

                                      touch you real 

                                      so raw 

broken from sickness to death 

the pain of life 

body of life covers womb communion 

newness of  being sin reborn in transience

intimacy of un-wrappings – your gift of frailty 

 

Frail love payment Shylock made vulnerable 

vulnerable Immanuel

touch tomorrow real 

organic fragility 

holy touch of skin 

murder thought beyond beauty 

thought beyond (your presence) 

sacrifice mortality for mercy (in your presence) 

warm juice of body caress incarnate (in your presence) 

time covered physicality (in your presence) 

mortal mercy being beauty (in your presence)

wholeness/hope/faith alive (in your presence)

 

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The gift of authentic presence

Last week I was involved in a Christian conference in Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast. I’m not generally a fan of these types of gathering but working with some of my friends and colleagues from across the country we were able to do some creative stuff and engage in some fruitful conversations so it was a good few days.

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One of the talks I gave explored being gay as a God given identity. I try not to get involved in some of the slanging matches the church can sometimes engage in regarding same sex relationships and wanted simply to offer a positive reflection on my experience of being a gay Christian. People said I was very courageous to offer this talk but, in all honesty, it didn’t feel like I needed much courage to do it. My friend Lou Davis also offered a talk on her and others experiences in the area of fertility/infertility, motherhood and what it means to be a woman today. It was a sacred moment to hear someone speak so honestly and openly. 

We were both trying to be as honest about our experiences as possible and one of the things we found through doing this was the power of authentic presence.

By this I mean that once we strip away all the dross we wrap around ourselves: the presentable face, the face that is strong enough to cope and will never admit to being broken, the face that is clever, wise or good; then we enter into a different way of being. There is something so simple here that is difficult to do in practice. The moment we start to strip these masks away our ego objects, sometimes strongly and sometimes more subtly because we have mistaken the wrappings for the person we actually are and removing them feels like we are being diminished. The truth is, however, that as we remove them we move towards freedom. There’s no doubt that this is a painful process but it is ultimately liberating not only for us but for those around us.

As we are honest about who we really are, without artifice, we are offering the gift of authentic presence to those around us. Authentic presence opens up sacred space. As we are genuinely offering ourselves to others so they are enabled to genuinely be  themselves. And in that space we meet each other without pretence. I no longer need to be seen to be clever, or successful or unbroken, I’m simply being who I am. This is the reason that it didn’t feel like I needed courage to speak last week. I was, as far as I was able, simply being who I am, for good or ill. And there is no striving there or fear of failure or fear of criticism because all I was seeking to achieve was to offer myself. And transformation comes when we are able to meet people in that authentic space.

If you’re interested in what I said here is a recording of the talk. For those listening from a context outside the church in Britain you’ll have to look past some of the churchy references and asides, I was speaking in a certain context and in other places wouldn’t use some of the allusions I do here but I hope that my meaning is still clear.

 
celebrating_a_god_given_identity.mp3