St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

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February 28th Lent 2, 2021     John Marsh

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

Sometimes while reading, I come across a word, a phrase, a thought, demanding a pause, a reflection…

Perhaps more honestly, I get hung up…

Leaving the matter undecided as to whether I’m fixated or reflective…

There may be something within Paul’s phrase, ‘hoping against hope’ – see Romans 4:18 – something stirring, something within hope hoping against itself, a certain madness, a certain implausibility requiring risk, work, commitment, a certain love expressed, not because it will, of necessity, succeed, but because it is its own goal, without which, life is unimaginable; something, perhaps hoping, that within literary narratives haunting life’s narratives, new life may emerge regardless of, yet within the vicissitudes, the uncertainties of existence¹…

Perhaps within hoping against hope is life risking a life lived without a why or a wherefore, with an understanding that living without a why or a wherefore is but a momentary silence, a pause, in the relentless rush of why’s and wherefore’s, a struggling with the reality of living with why, without why, both with and without, neither with nor without²…

Pausing to open what is meant by living without a why or a wherefore, a prominent line of thought in the work of Meister Eckhart, such is to live allowing life, persons etc. to be what/who they are without reference to their utility, their usefulness. Using the language of Martin Buber, it is to treat others not as an ‘it’ but as a ‘thou’, a human being, a life deserving of respect and dignity. To further illustrate, after being disrespected and stripped of dignity by the machinations of an almost mindless bureaucracy, the title character of the movie, ‘I, Daniel Blake’, says, “I’m not a client, a customer, nor a service user; I’m not a shirker, a scrounger, a beggar, or a thief; I’m not a national insurance number or a blip on a screen; I’ve paid my dues never a penny short…I look my neighbour in the eye and help him if I can. My name is Daniel Blake and I’m a man not a dog. As such, I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect. I, Daniel Blake, am a citizen nothing more, nothing less.”

If you think about it – I pray you do – to always treat people with dignity and respect is difficult to do beyond but fleeting moments and yet, the call, calls…

So perhaps, within the ‘madness’ of the gospel passage – ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it’ (Mark 8:34-35) – there is a hoping against hope, the madness of work risking failure, the risk of a love committing life, life lived, love expressed, despite knowing nothing but uncertainty…

Perhaps this is the madness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing of a religionless Christianity, a Christianity joyously affirming the beauty of the world yet writing within a prison from which his life would later be taken; writing in his Letters and Papers of a faith fully embracing the world; writing of how one lives fully before god and with god only as one gives up on god, fully embracing the vagaries of existence, risking responsibilities within calls…

I may be dreaming but I hope that we recognize that the vagaries of existence, the unpredictability of life, cannot be changed or solved by the wave of a poetic wand - nothing is that simple.

Truth to tell, perhaps making matters worse, if it were not for the structures, institutions, and traditions of the world nothing would be remembered, cultivated, or passed down. I may critique the church – as I must, as I hope you do – but without it, Jesus would have been forgotten, love would be lost, hospitality hampered…

Perhaps the memory of Jesus, the memory of life and love, is carried within a hope carried by critique…

Perhaps closing off to hoping against hope, working against hoping against hope, is the shame we should be ashamed of… (see Mark 8:38)

Perhaps, hoping against hope, we can recognize that we live in the space, the distance between dreaming and actuality, between Martha and Mary, between the poetry and prose of the world, that we hear but barely in the space between, that in responding, tentative though our response must be, possibility lures…

So, I’m hoping…

I’m hoping that god, whatever is stirring within the name of god, is hoping, reflecting the old Talmudic story of god who, having tried 26 times in creating the world before finally succeeding, exclaimed, “Let us hope it works.”

Perhaps god too is hoping against hope!

Can we do any less!

Truth to tell, we can do less, listening to our lesser angels, yet perhaps we will take the risk of hope, which is a spirit, an aspiration, a respiration, an inspiration, perhaps, of god’s spirit, of god’s insistence groaning to exist…


Sean Rowe, “To Leave Something Behind”.


I can not say I know you well
But you can't lie to me with all these books that you sell
I'm not trying to follow you to the end of the world
I'm just trying to leave something behind

The words have come from men and mouse
But I can not help thinking that I have heard the wrong people
When all the water is gone my work will be too
And I'm trying to leave something behind

Oh, money is free but love costs more than our daily bread
And the roof is hard to access
Oh, the future ahead is broken and red
But I'm trying to leave something behind

This whole world is a foreign land
We swallow the moon, but we do not know our own hand
We're running with the case, but is not gold
However, we are trying to leave something behind

My friends who I think are in the wrong fight
And I can not read what I have not written
I've been at home, but the teacher is gone
But I would like to leave something

There is a beast that has taken my brain
Can you put to bed, but you can not feel my pain
When the machine has taken the soul of man
It's time to leave something behind

Oh, money is free but love costs more than our daily bread
And the roof is hard to access
Oh, the future ahead is dead
So I'm trying to leave something behind

I feel I'm still on the shore
And the pockets do not know what it means to be poor
I can get through the wall if you give me a door
So I can leave something behind

Oh wisdom is lost somewhere in the trees
You will not find in a little mental gray hair
It is closed from the hurrying ahead
And it's time to leave something behind

Oh, money is free but love costs more than our daily bread
And the roof is hard to access
When my son is a man who knows what I mean
I was just trying to leave something behind
I was just trying to leave something behind

 ¹ Carefully consider Genesis 17 and Romans 14.

 ² See John Caputo, Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of Postmodern Pilgrim (Fortress Press) 2015 p.188.