texts: Psalm 51 and Matthew 11:  28-30

“Now is the moment to learn hope.”
It’s with that statement, that pronouncement, that summons, really, that John Holloway begins his address at the Rediscovering the Radical Conference in Liverpool.
“Now is the moment to learn hope, he goes on ...
Now when there seems so little grounds for hope
Now when refugees and migrants are drowning in the sea
Now when racism and fascism are surging in Europe and North America and elsewhere
Now when even to mention hope seems like a sick joke or an insult to millions and millions of young people who face a life of unemployment, or sometimes worse -- employment!
Now is the time to learn hope … not just to hope that everything will be alright. But to learn hope … hope as a way of thinking that opens paths to a different world.

It’s that opening way of thinking that we’re in danger of losing, John says. For there’s a way in which the world is closing … walls are going up, borders are becoming stricter and more violent. And as money becomes a growing factor in education, medical care, and all aspects of life … barriers are erected keeping out those without money. There’s not just a closing of real possibilities of what we can do with our lives but also a closing of our senses … a closing of what we’re able to imagine … a closing of our capacity to think and feel certain things. …

To learn to hope is to say NO to closure. To learn to hope is to open our minds and senses to a radically different world not based on money and profit. … for this form of social organization is destroying our lives … and the non-human forms of life as well.

But there arises, he says, the question: who will listen if we talk about the end of capitalism, revolution … won’t it be too extreme?  Do we not have to tone down our language for ordinary people in the real world? No, I don’t think so, he says.

There’s a beautiful moment when he steps back from his notes and says to this audience of radicals … we in this room are not so special … we are of course special, but not all that special!  We are ordinary people. … and we are rebels. We have to be able to see rebels everywhere. We have to understand people as ‘self-divided’ is the term he uses … as self-antagonistic. We have to see in people, and touch in people the clashing and contradiction that exists inside everyone.

We have to understand that the ‘grey conformism,’ as he calls it, of people around us, the grey conformism in ourselves is composed of contradicting, clashing, black and white. We have to see that in ordinary people there is this internal clash of contrast … AND that not everything is absorbed into the grey, beige blend. Ordinary people are composed of more than grey! [1]

So we’re not just this mass of apathy, or complicity or depression. We bear within us the full complexity of deep appreciation and negligence … generosity and self-preservation … rage and resignation … to name just a few of the competing energies we hold within us.

It’s with that divided self --that internal clashing and conflict that exists inside us-- that I’m suggesting we linger today.  In a sense it’s about noticing the violence that inhabits us as we make our way in the world that is full of competing calls on our time, our energy, our attention, our money … our heart. Our dear hearts! And it’s not just the competing calls “out there” is it, that insert themselves and exert their power. There are the conflicting priorities and desires within us … our concern for our carbon footprint and our eagerness to travel the world; our affirmation that every life is sacred, while at the same time we clothe ourselves, without an uproar, in garments produced by people who could be, and in truth are, our siblings, our mothers, fathers, our children, labouring in inhuman conditions.

Thankfully we are not just grey conformism … but that there are stark contrasts colliding and clashing within us. When the Psalm that we read declares “guilty I have been from my birth … a sinner from the time of my conception” … that’s not the voice of someone mired in self-hatred but a word spoken with the clear-eyed perception of how it is we are born into a system or systems that ensnare us, and with all the freedom in the world to choose for good and for ill.

But notice that’s not where the Psalm ends … not at all. From that very note it proceeds with this: "But you [O God] desire truth in our inward being,
Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart."

I want to tell you about an experience I had on Thursday that may be instructive in some way … if indeed it is true that that which is most deeply personal is universal.

On Thursday afternoon I was on overload … I came close to heading out with my visiting sister for a jaunt around town, when at the last minute realized what I really needed was solitude … psychic space … time to connect with myself, with God. So as the others headed out the door, I headed back to my study, and I sat down with the book that some of us are reading, The Divine Dance … it’s about God and us. I reached for the book because … well I was reaching for God. But it only took me a few minutes to realize I needed to set aside all these words about God for an encounter with God.

I turned instead to a poem Mary Wolfe, my spiritual director read to me at the beginning of one of my sessions with her … the Singing Bowl it’s called, concluding with the words: “and when the heart is full of quietness, begin the song exactly where you are.”
So I moved into silence. I would describe it more as a spaciousness in which I could begin to feel … and to see … and to listen.
My heart is full … and all a-jumble …I could see myself juggling many things. “let it down … let all of it down.”

No longer juggling, what I noticed was a heavy heart … not just a full heart but a heavy heart. And a heart that was covered, blanketed … as though in an oil slick … covered in a sticky goo.
And I heard myself say to God, “I give you my heart” … but not for pouring out … not for another’s sake … but to receive, for you to care for my heart. I just sat there in that mode for some time …
“I give you my heart … I give you my heart” … “I give you my heart”
I had this picture of an oil-slicked bird that had been washed up on the beach, now lifted up and being tended … washed … cleaned … unglued.
Can you hear it? … “Purge me and I shall be clean … wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”

This Psalm that I had read earlier in the day … it was somehow praying itself in me.  “Put a new heart in me O God ... and give me again a constant spirit.”

So here’s what I wonder … better still, here’s what I think I know …
What if we were to attend to the discomfort, the dissonance, the clashing inside us instead of consoling it -- with our many ways of consolation. What if instead of numbing it or talking over it or taking it shopping or eating it down -- what if we were to give it room to breathe, to whisper or wail … what might we hear? Where might it take us?

What if we were to take it … the clashing, the contradictions, the confusion, the confounding that inhabit our heart, and not just our heart … what if we were to take our all to the heart of Love … and just give it …trusting with the writer of that Psalm “you accept O God a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you will not despise.”

In Jesus we hear the longing, the promise in the heart of God that we would come into another way … “come unto me, all you that are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Come, Jesus says … come! … like that would be our first move.
Not to isolate ourselves … not to go it alone, as though we could free ourselves of the oil slick that constrains and kills us. No, we are urged to place ourselves in such a way that Mercy can reach us … illumine the truth about ourselves … show us another way … free us … raise us up to live anew.

So this morning I imagined us taking time for confession … placing ourselves in Mercy’s way … offering our hearts for the work of God’s grace … whatever the state of our heart.
To lead us into that time of silence I’ll read to you the words that Mary Wolfe read to me, concluding with sounding the singing bowl that gives us this lingering tone that we might follow into the silence ….

Singing Bowl

Begin the song exactly where you are,
Remain within the world of which you’re made.
Call nothing common in the earth or air,

Accept it all and let it be for good.
Start with the very breath you breathe in now,
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time.
Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.

Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
Is richness out of emptiness,
And timelessness resounding into time.

And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are. [2]


[1] John Holloway, Now is the Moment to Learn Hope, public address at the Rediscovering the Radical Conference, Liverpool, 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxKXd5Bjch

[2] Malcolm Guite, “The Singing Bowl,” in The Singing Bowl, Norwich, Canterbury Press, 2013