transcendence on sale

I was walking down Ponsonby Rd in Auckland when this shop window caught my eye.  TRANSCENDENCE  - SALE.   What a lovely juxtaposition to ponder, what a challenge to our attitudes it contains.  

In religion, transcendence is a way of describing the aspects of a Gods nature and power that are not confined by the physical universe.  It is the very divine ‘other’ elements of God, that rise above our ordinary existence.  Contrast that with the sale sign and it says something powerful about our current attitudes and way of being in the world.   Oh, how we long for the experience of transcendence, an out of the world connection to the divine.   We long for it, we look for it, but we remain too bogged down in our own ordinariness to pay full price.


The contrast of the words in this shop window draws our attention back to Lent.  Lent (we are currently in Lent, the time of spiritual preparation for the Easter celebrations) is all about juxtapositions, contrasts, oppositional forces.  In the Easter narrative, we see the forces of humanity and divinity that lie in direct contrast with each other,  we notice the contrast between who we are and who God is and we observe the juxtaposition between death and life that leads towards the culmination of the story - the resurrection.  Lent is a time where we become aware of the contrast between transcendence and ordinary humanity by trying to place limits on some of our ordinary human wants.  Through fasting we are trying to step from our ordinariness in an attempt to see transcendence breaking though, I associate those moments with the work and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Fasting is one of the ways that I can say I know this doesn’t come cheap but I am willing to pay because I long to see more transcendence, more of the Holy Spirit.  But the question arises just what or how much am I willing to pay.  I have fought the notion that those moments of communion with the Holy Spirit only occur through silence and time alone, surely God who created us to be mothers and to work finds ways to break through when we are cooking meals and listening to the constant chatter of an 8-year-old.  Surely there are ways and rhythms where God can find me even in the busyness - I am still convinced there must be.  Yet for me as someone who needs time alone to recharge, there seems to be something particularly helpful about being relaxed and open in the quiet that allows the creative breath of God to whisper to me.  The quiet and restful space that allows my awareness to turn to the transcendent and ever-present God.  Like clothes from boutiques in Ponsonby this silence comes at a price, I must be prepared to pay the cost of sleep or productivity. 


During lent I can see the resurrection as a clear demonstration of the transcendence of God, and it draws me on, pulls me in.  Once pulled in I can see the power in the juxtaposition of Jesus being fully divine and fully human.  Because it is those touches of the transcendent Holy Spirit that I experience that allows me to embrace the full humanness of my existence, renovated, restored and made whole again.

Perhaps that is what Lent is about, it is about exploring that juxtaposition of human, ordinary physicality and the transcendence or divine mystery and how they came together in Jesus and his presence and in the continued presence of the Holy Spirit in our day to day life.

How is the Holy Spirit speaking to you this Lent?

pancakes are a distraction

Happy Mardi Gras, - I don’t think I was too far into my journey of learning French when I worked out that this meant fat Tuesday - ever since then I have been delighted by the name.  Somehow the more English ‘pancake day' doesn’t quite contain the same magic and delight as Mardi Gras or the Spanish Carnaval (eat meat).   Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent begins (the period of spiritual preparation that goes from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday), and it became a time of feasting as it was the day to use up all the perishable items that people would be giving up for the Lenten fast.  As butter, eggs, sugar and cream were items that were given up for Lent pancakes were a good choice to use up these ingredients.   

A challenge to the comfortable for Lent

It is nice to practice traditions and rituals that connect us to the history of the church and connect us to God through spiritual practices like fasting.  But going out and buying ingredients for pancakes (or those shake and mix things if pancake ability fails you like me), makes pancakes a non-contextualised distraction rather than something we do to connect us to God and to our faith. In our society, today eggs, butter, and sugar aren’t usually the items that we fast from during Lent. In fact, it is common to give up more luxury items such as wine or chocolate, rather than going without the more everyday items like meat that challenge us on a daily basis. So pancakes and even the whole period of fasting, become a nice thing to do, rather than something that confronts us with how well off we are.  The question that pancakes distract us from is

how do we deny ourselves (as Jesus so often did) when we have so much.  

I have in the past tried giving up certain foods or wine for Lent, and I have also tried doing 40 acts of kindness where the focus is on giving to others rather than denying yourself.  This year I am struck by how much  I have been giving out of my own abundance rather than giving in a way that challenges my comfort.  I can see that sometimes saying “here I have something that I think you may want” is in itself an act of privilege, an act of separation, not connection.  This Lent I am aware of how my privilege swaddles me, how the layers of comfort that I have surrounded myself with limits my ability to see the world from other peoples perspectives.  My comfort acts as insulation from a deep connection with others and with God.  This Lent instead of denying myself things that I don’t really need anyway or giving away things that I have plenty of, I want to unwrap those layers of comfort that stop me seeing the world with the eyes of others.  But I  am not sure I am brave enough because unwrapping involves exposure, it involves vulnerability - can I really go there?   Jesus chose to put aside his privilege and become as nothing (Philippians 2), and so should I if I seek to follow God.   If only there was a simple way to do this, to change my way of seeing so that my comfort no longer obscures my ability to view the world in different ways.   

Does our comfort obscure our understanding of  others

Part of my problem is that I do want to engage with people not like myself, to listen and be able to develop new eyes with which to view the systems in which I live.  But I am an introverted, socially awkward intellectual, often I don’t feel like socialising at all, let alone with people who are not like myself. 

But the challenge remains, the call from Jesus to challenge and dismantle the systems that create privilege at the expense of some, that create disconnection and that harm us in so many ways. 

Accepting that challenge is difficult as in so many situations I am not even aware of all those layers of comfort and ease that are clouding my vision.  For me, as we move into this first week of Lent, the first step is in beginning to recognise and understand just how deeply those layers have influenced me, how they have led to my seeing the world in a certain way.  To understand how the comfort and ease have influenced my opinions, values and ideas. 

Perhaps I need to be reminded that there are other ways of seeing the world, other views that I need to listen for.  This week each time I reach for my favourite weekend wine, and my daily chocolate that I am fasting from,  I will take that time to remind myself just how comfortable I am getting. I can take that time to discover other perspectives. 


For this first week of Lent I challenge you to like me, begin to unpack the layers that have created your ideas, values and opinions.

  1. Sit down and prayerfully consider all your comfort, ease and abundance, what do you have that others may not?
  2. List all the ways that you are privileged for choice and access.  You might like to consider your race and culture, your sexuality, your gender, gender identity, your education level (and that of your parents), your wealth, the suburb you grew up in, physical ability, physical health, your religion, and any others that occur to you.
  3. What influence might these layers of ease and comfort have had on how you see the world? How were you taught to see yourself? How were you taught to see others? 
  4. Choose two of these categories of privilege and research some alternative views.  What opinions, values and ideas do people different from you have?   What views do they have that are different to yours, what is the same? Why do you think they have developed these views? What about your different experiences may have lead to you having different views?  What has influenced their formation? What has influenced yours? 
  5. Conclude with a prayer:

Jesus, you came and emptied yourself,
teach us to follow your example.  
Help us to recognise and lay down our power,
Help us to understand how our attitudes lead to oppression
and our actions to heartbreak.  
Forgive us for all the times we have taken our choices for granted,
or prevented others from having choices.
Forgive us for those moments when we have been agents of oppression,
or excluded others from feeling welcome.   
Jesus be with us so that we may recognise our abundance,
give us your eyes of compassion and help us to make actions of love.