The Autumn 2022 issue of Zadok Perspectives and Papers is on ‘Public Speaking’. Though basically intra-Christian, includes a fine article by famed Jewish ABC broadcaster Rachael Kohn in dialogue with a range of religious authors on Fear and Faith, reviving the notion that if you fear God you need fear no other. And Megan Powell-du Toit’s imagery of Jesus’ death tearing the Temple curtain of Jew-Gentile, priestly-lay and male-female divides has powerful public impact. We have a finely nuanced review essay by Nathan Campbell on Stephen McAlpine’s Being the Good Bad Guys, which deservedly won the Australian Christian Book of the Year Award. McAlpine critiques the Missional Church movement from which he comes, for expecting that once the barbaric cultural and colonial barnacles of Christendom were cleared from its hull it would be allowed fair passage and mooring rights into now secularised harbours, cities, universities and media. (And much more – read more here).
(adapted from the Ethos blog article by Gordon Preece)
7th May is World Labyrinth Day. It is an annual event sponsored by The Labyrinth Society as a worldwide action to “walk as one at 1” local time to create a rolling wave of peaceful energy across the globe.
Every year on the first Saturday in May (in 2022 it will be 7th May), thousands of people around the world participate in this moving meditation for world peace.
In this time of war and conflict in so many countries, perhaps making space for intentional walking for peace may be a small but positive response to our fractured world. If there’s no labyrinth close to you, consider a ‘slow mindful walk’ instead.
Labyrinth prayer – a brief history In A.D. 324 Christians placed a labyrinth on the floor of their church in Algiers. Although Christians must have been using the labyrinth earlier, this is the first historical record we have of the Christian use of the labyrinth. Since that time labyrinths have been prayed, studied, danced, traced and drawn as Christians have sought to use this spiritual tool to draw closer to God.
Using the labyrinth involves moving one’s body and opening one’s heart to Jesus. All you have to do is follow the path and you will find the center. Unlike a maze the labyrinth has no tricks in it. A “typical” labyrinth experience involves preparing oneself at the threshold, following the single path to the center, spending time in the center, following the same pathway out the threshold and then responding to the experience. If this is your first encounter with the labyrinth you may wonder, “What is the correct way for me to do this?” Relax! Pray on the labyrinth the way you like to pray in other places. Have a conversation with God about the things that matter most to you, offer words and gestures of praise, or present your prayer requests to Christ; there is no “right” way to pray just as there is no “right” way to pray the labyrinth! If you still aren’t sure how to get started, simply repeat, “Thy will be done” as you move on the labyrinth. Another simple way to pray the labyrinth is to pray for others on the way in, enjoy God’s presence in the center and pray for yourself as you move back towards the threshold. The word “labyrinth” is not found in the Bible, but themes of a following God’s way, spiritual journeys, and enjoying God’s presence—all central to labyrinth experiences—are found throughout Scripture. Two verses that can be used while praying the labyrinth are, “You show me the path of life, In your presence there is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11) and Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” (John 14:6). We are currently in a period of historic labyrinth revival. Churches, retreat centers and Christian camps are placing these prayer tools inside and outside. Christians all over the world are installing labyrinths in their yards and gardens. Many are using the labyrinths as a ministry tool, bringing portable versions to prisons, national denominational conferences and church group meetings. Many people are being drawn closer to Jesus, experiencing healing and gaining spiritual clarity as they pray on its path.
“Easter is a celebration of life,” the letter reads. “In order to celebrate life all people need to flourish, but we acknowledge that Australians have been enduring dark days – with droughts, bushfires, severe storms and massive floods.”
The church leaders reflect that damage to the climate is a key contributing factor to these disasters. “Yet among these shared struggles there is Easter, a message of hope,” the letter reads. “The greater challenge of preventing such disasters in the future requires systemic transformation.”
The letter urges government leaders to heed the advice of climate experts to reduce carbon emissions.
“Churches along with other institutions in civil society and the business community must examine our own practices so we can help reverse damage to the climate,” reads the letter.
Among the signatories of the letter is Bishop Philip Huggins, director of the Centre for Ecumenical Studies at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.
He joins other churches leaders in urging Australia’s government leaders to stop the nation’s climate change isolationism.
“Consistent with the purposes of the Paris Agreement, Australia now has obligations with a timeline,” reflected Huggins. “You would not know this from current pre-election discourse.”
Huggins believes the obligations are entirely sensible. “There is no hiding place from the consequences of climate change,” he said. “We must contain carbon emissions if we are to prevent global temperatures rising beyond the 1.5 degree target of the Paris Agreement.”
Yet Australian politicians are not yet connected with this reality, Huggins added. “The justice issue is that those who have had least to do with causing climate change will continue to suffer the worst consequences,” he said. “That includes our own young people as well as our neighbours in the Pacific.”
On a personal level, Huggins said he looks at his grandchildren and fears for their future. “We are still in the early days of this election campaign,” he said. “The politics around climate change must become more just and more internationally responsible.”
Huggings insisted that proceeding on a path that feeds global warming would be extraordinarily stupid as well as unjust.
“More inspired leadership, in coming weeks, would give our young people and our Pacific neighbours the possibility of real optimism and hope for the future,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful!”
This Passover, I thought a great deal about the exceedingly radical message at the heart of the story we tell and retell around the seder table every year.
In particular, I thought about what the story tells us about power, about the ways the powerful wield their power against the less powerful, and about the inevitability of corrupt power’s eventual fall. And I’m thinking about what is possibly the most radical message of all: that there is a Power greater, yes even greater than human power.
Empires, of course, have perennially failed to heed this message. Powerful empires have come and gone, but the Power that Makes for Liberation still manages to live to fight another day. Will the Pharaohs among us ever learn?
There’s no getting around the fact that the Passover story is not a neat, tidy or particularly pleasant story. That’s because – as we all know too well – the powerful never give up their power without a fight. No one ever made this point better or more eloquently than Frederick Douglass when he said in 1857:
The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
Passover thus poses a special challenge to those who wield power and privilege. What would it mean if the powerful truly took to heart our tradition’s most challenging teachings: that God hears the cries of the enslaved, that God is a God of Liberation, that God stands with the oppressed, not the oppressor and demands that we do as well?
As well: are those who benefit from Empire prepared to confront the ways this power is wielded in any number of oppressive ways at home and abroad? Might we possibly be willing to contemplate this truth: that even the mightiest Empire will eventually, inevitably go the way of history?
Wake in this new day we will all die soon let us live while we have the chance while we have this day to build and plot and devise to create and make the world just this time for us this time for all this time the pharaohs must fall
May the Passover story inspire us all to be bearers of that vision in our lives and in our world.
An Open Letter to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, Moscow From The Rev. Dr Keith Clements
8 March 2022
I greet you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
During these recent days I have been recalling very clearly the visit which in May 1999 Your Holiness and I together with other church and ecumenical figures made to Belgrade. We met with President Milosevic to present and discuss with him a proposal, drawn up by the Vienna Group of which both of us were members, for ending the conflict over Kosovo. Belgrade at that time was under aerial bombardment by NATO forces. In Belgrade and elsewhere we saw at first hand the effects of such attacks and our visit involved not a little danger to ourselves. But we went willingly, with the aim of contributing towards a cessation of hostilities and the creation of an opportunity for peace. This remains with me as a very positive memory of ecumenical fellowship in pursuit of peace, for which I am deeply grateful.
Today, in Ukraine, we are witnessing attacks on a country and its people, on a far greater scale than anything seen in Europe since 1945. This time, it has to be said in plain truth and in sorrow, the military operations are being carried out not by NATO but by Russian forces under the orders of President Putin. The devastation being wreaked upon Ukraine, its people and its infrastructure, the displacement and flight of civilians now being numbered by the million, are being witnessed by the whole world. It is a situation which cannot be justified by any Christian spirit or conscience, and for the sake of the people of Ukraine and of Russia must be ended without delay.
In the same spirit which led us to visit Belgrade in 1999, I appeal to you for a word which acknowledges and addresses this situation in terms befitting a great Church of Jesus Christ. Thus far, we in the world outside have heard words about the desire for peace, but not about the things that make for peace: first of all an acknowledgment of the wrong that is being committed against the people of Ukraine, without which no genuine movement towards peace can begin. It is known that there are voices in your Church and in other Christian communities in Russia, which are already expressing these aspirations towards repentance and the hope which repentance brings. I and others hope and pray that you will hear, defend and uphold them.
Many of us are well aware of the real historical factors which are involved in the relationship of Russia and Ukraine. We also realise that all countries, including those in the West, will need to reflect on their policies in Europe over recent decades, and be ready to learn from past mistakes. Moreover we are aware of the constraints which Your Holiness experiences, as leader of a Church with such close ties to the Russian state. But ‘the word of God is not chained’ (2 Timothy 2:9) and history shows us that there are moments when the Church is challenged to confess, perhaps at great cost but greatly strengthening its witness to the love of God for all people, where its truest and highest allegiance lies. Christians are called to place above all claims of earthly powers their loyalty to Jesus Christ to whom alone ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given’ (Matthew 28:18).
With all those who eagerly await such a word from you, and with continuing prayers for the guidance and inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit upon Your Holiness, I remain,
Former General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches 1997-2005
Keith Clement is former General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches, 1997-2005.