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  • Writer's pictureStrathspey Kirks

Radical Presence: Jordan - threshold of freedom

In those days John the Baptist came into the wilderness of Judea proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” For he is the one about whom the prophet Isaiah had spoken: The voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing made from camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. Then people from Jerusalem, as well as all Judea and all the region around the Jordan, were going out to him, and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. Luke 3:1-6 from the New English Translation NET Bible® ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

It’s ‘aye been’, or so the saying goes. A good excuse not to change anything and, after all, if it isn’t broken, why fix it?

Except, maybe it was broken? That’s the question for this second week of Radical Presence.

Are you one of the supposedly 85% of people who, back last April, said when surveyed that things shouldn’t go back and be the same again? Or maybe you were but, as the long months have drawn on, “going back” is something you’ve started to long for?

In the face of such a huge threat, all of us, together, did things that almost everyone would have thought were impossible. The collective giving up of so many freedoms and ways of living, all for the greater good, hadn’t been seen since the war years of the 1940s. We did amazing things and we’ve proved to ourselves that we can keep doing amazing things, if we want to.

What the world looks like into the future is up to us and this is a big moment. Or, as Richard Rohr describes it, a ‘liminal moment’, between one thing and the next, our old place a place of challenge but our new place not yet clearly defined. We are ‘between two worlds.”

Arundhati Roy puts it even more powerfully, for me at least:

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

And so here is the question: are we brave enough to imagine our world anew, and see this as a River Jordan moment of baptism and change?

Throughout the stories of God’s people, there are moments of passing through. Liminal moments where choices were made and impossible things became possible. For Christians, that’s God in Christ all summed up!

It doesn’t take away from these transformational moments being difficult or painful or traumatic. But we and God, together, have previous here. We can do this. If we want to.

After Covid, nothing can stay the same again. Can we say nothing should stay the same again? With so many vested interests, economic and political, desperate to get back to the old, profitable ways of exploitation, of people and the planet, the will to resist and press on will need to be strong.

But just as a people long before us turned their backs on slavery to a future of freedom in a promised land, maybe we to can take this liminal moment to grab that same chance.

What do you think?

‘Threshold’, by the late Welsh poet and Priest, R. S. Thomas (taken from the Poetry Foundation’s website)…..

I emerge from the mind’s cave into the worse darkness outside, where things pass and the Lord is in none of them. I have heard the still, small voice and it was that of the bacteria demolishing my cosmos. I have lingered too long on this threshold, but where can I go? To look back is to lose the soul I was leading upwards towards the light. To look forward? Ah, what balance is needed at the edges of such an abyss. I am alone on the surface of a turning planet. What to do but, like Michelangelo’s Adam, put my hand out into unknown space, hoping for the reciprocating touch?

Cover image of 'Crossing the Red Sea' by Cheryl Rose. Available here.

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