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Exploring the Strange Land

2021 Day of Penitence, St. Francis College, Milton, 13th March “Transformation within the desert” in this time of the pandemic.

Talk 2 – Exploring the strange land, by Ray CLifton tssf

Introduction

“Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at a hospital in the city (of Wuhan), became one of the most visible figures in the early days of the outbreak when he tried to warn the world, but was reprimanded by police for ‘spreading rumours.’

The 34-year-old’s death from the virus on February 7, 2020 led to an outpouring of public mourning and rare expressions of anger online.

Days later he was hailed a ‘hero of China’ by renowned epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan.

But when President Xi Jinping honoured the ‘heroes’ of the ‘people’s war’ against the virus in September, there was no mention of Li’s contribution.” (Quote from MSN News 6/2/21)

This one quote, a year after Dr. Li’s death, shows up the myopathy of power against the courage self-sacrifice and concern for others. The compassionate and professional actions of an individual against the narrow control of a regime.

Settling into this desert space meets us each differently. In the midst of settling are the currents of self-centeredness and openness. These currents run through our Gospel story too.

Settling into the Pandemic

As the Pandemic spread last year, everyone, including Governments with their political ideologies, had to find their own way of settling in this strange land. There were many challenges and discoveries each with their shocks and surprises.

One of the first shocks was the strange but necessary intervention of ‘physical distancing’ and ‘quarantine’. Each brought levels of distress and discomfort. The human need for connection and physical contact were missing as we knew it. Gradually as people settled and technology was picked up some solutions became available to keep people in touch. Yet isolation is still a large experience for many in the world. The scars and hunger of isolation will be present for a long time.

In lockdowns and under various restrictions, we saw varying responses. From denial, fear, and panic to slowing down, giving with generous hearts, and taking risks, people started to feel the effects of this new place.

The focus of the everyday with all its commitments was narrowed. With this came the contradictions of panic buying and the generosity of Communities supporting the vulnerable. Friends and strangers volunteered to check on older neighbours. The contradictions of the fear of missing out and mistrust of others at the same time as open hearts and mutual responsibility.

With life being limited to the home, people made the rediscovery of simplicity. There was time to bake sourdough bread, spend time with children and less in the diary. This was accompanied by a re-evaluation of the quality of life lived and its purpose in face of mortality and seeing what is essential.

Individually and as a community we were sometimes overwhelmed by the high death and infection rates. We were shocked too by the size of the economic collapse and unheard-of unemployment. Although Government stimulus and support was provided, the effects on individuals and families and businesses will go on for a lot longer than the pandemic.

Alongside protests about the perception of government limitation of liberty, we witnessed in this city and around the world, the dedication, self-sacrifice and professionalism of frontline health and emergency service workers risking their own lives for the sake of others.

Two views of the land

The younger son

The son’s decision propelled him on an adventure to a faraway land with the cash to enjoy it. Severing his ties with his family, without regard for the insult caused, this son set his sights on his dreams. Home and thinking about others were a long way away. It wasn’t until his cash ran out and all his new friends disappeared that the reality and isolation of his actions set in.

The isolation was acute. He found himself feeding pigs and eating their food. In these circumstances, poor and destitute, the son felt the depths of the consequences of his selfishness and decisions. To add to his predicament, the son suffered the indignity and offence as a Jewish person of living with pigs.
His myopia led to degradation and being religious defiled.

The Father

When confronted by his younger son, the father had every right to banish him from the family without the inheritance he asked for. The son’s action was as good as wishing his father was dead. The son had religiously and culturally offended his father in the worst way imaginable. Perhaps everyone in the family and in the community were waiting to see if the father would do what was demanded by honour.

Everyone was shocked at the father’s reaction. The father gave the younger son what he had asked for. Some may have been puzzled and even angry with the father’s action. Others may have thought him weak and unable to say no. Still others would have expected the father to disown his son and consider him dead.

It is always dangerous to project something onto a character in scripture. However, given the father’s response later in the story, there is an extravagance in the father’s love which defies understanding and honour, but invites the gaze to something else.

We are invited to look past the insult and the money to the relationship between a father and a son and the way the father offers the son space and the freedom to choose. The choice for the father is painful. However, the pain is carried with hope for the son. Hope that the son will find himself and return to Love.

The father had to trust his choice to allow his son to go his own way and above all trust in Love.

What looks foolish and extravagant in the eyes of the world was Love. Love freely given without expectation of anything in return.

Francis

Story of Francis and the brother hungry in the night

One night Francis and was woken from his sleep by one of the Friars. The man was crying out, “I’m dying, I’m dying.”
Francis called for a lamp to be lit and then asked him in a kind voice, “What is the matter my brother? Why do you think you are dying?”
“I am dying of hunger,” the weeping man said.
Francis immediately asked for a meal to be prepared. And so, the hungry brother wouldn’t have to eat alone or be ashamed that he was so hungry, Francis asked all the Friars to eat too.
Afterwards he said to them, “Everybody is different and has different needs. Some people need to eat more than others.” He then went on to say, “I want you to allow your bodies what they need in order that you may serve God to the best of your ability. God wants kindness and mercy and not sacrifice.”2

Francis was committed to living the Gospel. At times the passion for this met with the different abilities of other people to follow with the same passion or capacity. When the brother cried out there was a choice between two ways; highlight the brother’s frailty or have compassion. It’s easy to become preoccupied with the fear of our own need not being met or a passion for a practice or belief. Sometimes we are reminded of what happens when we impose these things on others or without regard for them.

Francis chose compassion and community. He listened to the brother and responded with the generosity of something to meet his need as well as the solidarity of a community.

Conclusion

The father and Francis point to a way of being in the strange land of the desert. The father bore his own pain and disappointment and yet offered freedom and choice to his son. While Francis’ actions for his brother provided for a need and connection to a community.

This time presents us with choices in challenging circumstances.
* When have you noticed the struggle to choose love of others over desire or gain?
* What thanksgiving can you offer for the gifts God has given in this time?

The Shock of the Desert

Ray Clifton tssf gave three talks for the Day of Penitence for Queensland-B Tertiaries. We post them here because many more Tertiaries will benefit from them.

2021 Day of Penitence, St. Francis College, Milton, 13th March “Transformation within the desert” in this time of the pandemic.

1

Talk 1 – Eucharist – ‘The Shock of the Desert’
Introduction

I would like to thank the Regional Team for inviting me to offer these reflections with you over this quiet day. I offer these little words and the invitation to journey with me in the company of Francis and in the Holy Spirit to reflect on the heart of our call to live the Gospel in these challenging times. We will have the opportunity to recognize where we have wandered in search of our own agenda, resented others and denied others grace. We will also have the space to see the ways God invites us to return to serving others where we are called, joyfully and generously.

In these talks we will use the metaphor of the desert and look at the Story of the Prodigal Son to reflect on the experience of the Pandemic. We will take what we have learnt from the desert of the Pandemic as we look to emerge into a changed place. The talks will lead us from ‘The Shock of the Desert’ to ‘Exploring the strange land’ and onto ‘Learning from the desert’.

The inherited European view of Desert in Australia thinks of Desert as a place of vast space, no life, a thing to be conquered and dangerous. To first nation peoples, the desert is a place of life, song lines and stories as well as resources.
David Attenborough at the beginning of a series on Deserts says, “A third of the land on our planet is desert. These great scars on the face of the Earth appear to be lifeless. But, surprisingly, none are. In all, life manages somehow to keep a precarious hold.”

In the desert, a variety of plants, mainly cacti, range from the tall and spiny to small and very low (almost submerged). These symbols of resilience and adaption to the harsh environment, all have ways of capturing water, protection from predators, and flowers to attract pollinators.

This view of deserts gives us, along with the challenges to life of this Pandemic time, a new way of seeing possibilities and of ‘being’ people of hope and life living in solidarity with others facing the same challenges.

For billions of people, 2020 is a year best forgotten. However, as we reflect on the last year and our continued experience of the Pandemic, we continue to live with unprecedented change and uncertainty. Nations, communities, and individuals, we all live with the scars of the experience and long for a return to how things were pre-COVID.

The great shock of the Pandemic, as it gathered pace, reached into every community and home. Even without the confronting experience of contracting the virus or the loss of someone close to us, we have all been affected.
During the Pandemic, some people experienced isolation. This was accompanied by fear of COVID and lead to separation at critical times of need such as funerals, sickness, and older people living alone. There were protests at restrictions of movement and being, forced to quarantine. A great number of people lost jobs and livelihoods. We also found ourselves confronted by panic buying.

Life was being pared back to basics.

A Tale of Two Sons – Broken Paradise
The Younger Son

In the familiar story of the Prodigal Son, the younger of them said to his father,
“Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” …A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.’

The son consumed with dreams and his own desires let loose a shock wave through his family and community and one which would consume him too. This younger son, oblivious to the effect on his father and everyone else leaves home with paradise in his eyes and ultimately plunges himself into isolation.

At first this desert place is a rich place full of exotic experiences. A place where he immerses himself in the pleasure and people money could buy. This oasis is only full of the paradise he desires, as long as his resources last. Very soon, this place becomes a broken paradise.

This desert now becomes an empty and isolating place. The shock settles in for the younger son as he is left with no one and nowhere to go. No way out.

The older son

In this story we only find out at the end what the impact has been for older son of this shock experience of desert time in the family. The older son returns from a day’s work to find his brother, not only home, but being treated with a ring, fine clothes, and a feast. It’s unbelievable, unjust, and insulting. The older son reveals the anger and hurt he has held since his brother left when he replies to his father, ‘ “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”

The shock of this desert time for this older brother is that his belief in duty owed to his father and toiling for reward weren’t required. Duty and working hard, as important as they might be narrowed his focus, lead to angry judgements, and displaced the reason for respecting his father – Love.

Francis

Francis’ experiences of chasing pleasure and chivalry lead to his desert where the true focus of his life would be exposed. Francis, the ringleader of parties and carousing, the dreamer who pursued fame and heroism as a knight was gradually pared back by God. The isolation of Francis’ imprisonment in the war between Assisi and Perugia while he waited for his father to pay a ransom, his illness and the dream on the eve of battle as a knight, began to expose the emptiness of his quest and begin the journey to desire God alone.

Gradually this journey would turn Francis from selfishness to making God known through compassion and solidarity with others and all living things. Francis would be shaped by the shock of his desert and find springs of joy and life overflowing in in that same place.

Conclusion

As we reflect on the Pandemic and our experiences at this Day of Penitence, may we see afresh. To see the life-giving gifts of this uncomfortable desert and respond to God’s call to live a new life acknowledging those things that brought us disconnection from our communion with God, those around us, the environment and ourselves.

* What was your experience of the Pandemic?
* Which son do you identify with as you grappled with the shock of the ‘desert’?
* Like Francis, in what ways has this pandemic exposed your plans and desires or resentment?

SSF Video on YouTube

I have uploaded my first attempt at doing a video to give people a brief overview of our community onto Youtube. Please visist YouTube and comment, rate, the video. Also if you use a social networking site such as MySpace, Facebook etc, or have a website or blog, please consider either embedding (the best option) the video in your site or linking to the site at YouTube. If you’re not sure how to link or embed the video to your website, blog, MySpace, Facebook etc, or to link to it at YouTube please email me and I’ll try and help.

You can view the video at YouTube here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhfkeAj37fU

Pax

Br Nathan-James SSF

Please feel free to send comments, thoughts suggestions to me also if you don’t want to post to this site, or YouTube. Email Br Nathan-James.

Live Help Trial

I am trialling a Live Help chat program. If you are having difficulties with this site, or have any questions click on the Live Help icon in Members > Live Help or click here. If I am online then you will be able to chat live. If I am not online you will be able to send an email with your question and I will return you email as soon as I can. Pax Nathan.

Franciscan Blogs

A blog is short for web log (or journal, diary etc). A blog is a means of sharing your thoughts, opinions, feelings, reflections etc on topics of interest. They range from travel blogs to more profound and philosophical discussions. Authors can post material and visitors can add comments, opening up a series of discussions on the topic of question.

A list of related blogs on a person’s blog is often referred to as a blog roll. On the right hand menu you will find a blog roll, or series of links, to blogs authored by members of the Third Order, First Order and SSF Companions. Why not check them out and participate in topics which interest you. If you find a topic (post) which interests you simply click on the comments link at the top of the post and add your two cents worth.

An extension of this method of content management has been used on this web site to allow visitors to not only view information on the Third Order, but to participate in discussions on St Francis, St Clare, Franciscan Spirituality and religious life. Feel free to explore this site and participate in discussions.

Archbishop Philip Freier tssf Talks on Being a Franciscan

The Most Reverend Philip Freier tssf, Archbishop of Melbourne, was recently interviewed by the ABC Radio National’s Religion Report. In the interview he was asked about his active interaction with the public by being ‘out and about’ on the streets of Melbourne. The interviewer then asked him if this new approach had anything to do with him being a member of the Third Order Society of St Francis. + Freier was very open in his response about how St Francis had been an infuence in his life and what it meant to be a tertiary.  

Dr. Robert Bela Wilhelm’s Talks given at 2006 TSSF Conference

Story Teller Dr Bob Wilhelm was the keynote speaker at the Third Order Society of St Francis Conference held in Perth WA. Bob delivered a fascinating series of talks on storytelling; using familiar Franciscan stories. Conference attendees marvelled as Bob used these familiar stories to not only bring them alive for us, but to show us how story telling can be a means of helping others to explore Franciscan Spirituality in a real and meaningful way.

His series of talks can be downloaded from his conference web site www.patchonahurtingworld.info/

Welcome

Welcome from the Minister Provincial

Ted Witham

We are an Independent Order within the Anglican Church of Australia but are also part of the Society of St. Francis, within which there are three Orders: The Brothers and Sisters of the First Order live a community life under vows and express their dedication to Christ by outward service to others. The Second Order of Sisters is an enclosed contemplative Order in the UK. and US. The Third Order of Sisters and Brothers consists of women and men both lay and ordained who are vowed to a lifelong commitment to Christ and bear witness to the Gospel life in their homes and in the occupations in which they believe God has called them. We are drawn to the examples of St. Francis and St Clare who took to heart the Gospel and followed Christ. Our aim as a Society is to make our Lord known and loved everywhere, to promote the spirit of love and harmony, and to live simply. This is the obedience which the Gospel lays upon us and which shapes our lives and attitudes.

The Rev Ted Witham tssf.