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Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 25

16 September, 2012

This week I was invited to address the Prison Chaplain's Conference in Toolangi. Travelling there by car I had the opportunity to listen to talk-back radio for an hour or more, and hear the heated discussion on both sides around the film Innocence of Muslims and the protests against it. Sunday's public protest in Melbourne has been cancelled by the organisers, due to fears of violence, but outrage around the world seems to show no signs of abating. As I write this piece Pakistani soldiers are being deployed on the streets of Islamabad to protect Western Embassies from the protesters. This all gives fuel to Christopher Hitchens thesis that "religion poisons everything" and at times I feel like he might have a point. What hope is there to be found in all this conflict and hatred?

In such times as this it may be helpful to turn to the teaching of the mystics. Rumi, the 13th century Islamic mystic and poet, depicts God's judgement with a very different spirit to that of the current protests:

On Resurrection Day God will say, "What did you do with the strength and energy your food gave you on earth? How did you use your eyes? What did you make with your five senses while they were dimming and playing out? I gave you hands and feet as tools for preparing the ground for planting. Did you, in the health I gave, do the plowing?"

You will not be able to stand when you hear those questions. You will bend double, and finally acknowledge the glory. God will say, "Lift your head and answer the questions." Your head will rise a little, then slump again. "Look at me! Tell what you've done." You try, but you fall back flat as a snake. "I want every detail. Tell me!" Eventually you will be able to get to a sitting position. "Be plain and clear," God will say, "I have given you such gifts. What did you do with them?" You turn to the right looking to the prophets for help, as though to say, I am stuck in the mud of my life, Help me out of this! They will answer, those kings, "The time for helping is past. The plow stands there in the field. You should have used it." Then you turn to the left, where your family is, and they will say, "Don't look at us! This conversation is between you and your Creator."

Then you pray the prayer that is the essence of every ritual: God, I have no hope. I am torn to shreds. You are my first and last and only refuge. And God says to you: "Don't do daily prayers like a bird pecking, moving its head up and down. Prayer is an egg. Hatch out the total helpless inside."
Illustration for Ordinary Sunday 25 Musings

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