The many layers of a whole person

Dear Minster and Friends,

For our captors demanded a song from us.
Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn:
“Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!”
But how can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a pagan land?

Psalm 137:4

Our Western culture is often reductive about what it means to be a person. What I mean is this – that we have become used to reducing what it means to be human to simplistic organic or biological descriptions – ones that have only recently been taking our mental life seriously, our emotional life and have barely scratched the surface of what it means to be a human in community. The Bible is clear that human beings are made in the image of God, and the incarnation backs this up in the most incredible way – God becomes man without losing divinity or compromising humanity. The deep rich layers of what it means to be human are regularly underestimated by our culture, but also by ourselves. The movie Shrek makes the point brilliantly – though applying it to ogres!

Shrek: Ogres are like onions.
Donkey: They Stink?
Shrek: Yes.   No.
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Shrek: No.
Donkey: Oh, you leave them out in the sun, they all get brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs?
Shrek: No.  Layers. Onions have layers.  Ogres have layers. Onions have layers.  You get it? We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have layers.  Oh. You know, not everybody likes onions.

But the book of psalms is perfectly comfortable with ambiguities, some contradictions and the many complexities which are the lot of what it means to be real human beings in a real world – escaping shallow stereotypes of life and faith. Psalm 137 is about a singing people who have lost their capacity to sing – they are in too much distress to sing fake happy songs when their eyes are full of tears. But ironically – they express this by singing a song! But it is a song for God and with God – not for an outside audience. Worship is not a performance – it is designed to bring loving communication between God and a person at are most real and our most deep. The poet Andy Raine explores this in the life of David very poignantly:

For David was a king, but most of all a warrior,
And a warrior, but most of all a shepherd,
And a shepherd, but most of all a singer and a musician,
A singer and a musician, but most of all a worshipper.
Yes, David was a worshipper, but most of all a sinner;
And a sinner was he, but most of all a lover.

(Andy Rainer: Jerusalem: David and Jesus)

It is time to sing and pray – even if we need to sing songs about when we cannot sing.

This Sunday I will be preaching on what it means for us to be Church – part of the Story of God. It feels like a perfect time to consider that again together – so do please make a special effort to come this Sunday and pray and worship and seek God together as the month begins – and also as our nation continues to lurch through the political and social upheaval we are experiencing.

The Early Morning Sunday Communion is running again this Sunday morning, and though we will be pausing for three weeks, will be starting up again on 10th November.  Those of us who have been coming have really enjoyed the intimacy and the evident sense of the presence of God. Children and babes in arms are welcome – though there will be no provision for children – but the service is short and the babies who came seemed to enjoy themselves!

With much love,