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Up, Up and Away!

If you ever have the chance to visit the Anglican shrine in Walsingham and enter the Chapel of the Ascension, you might at first be a bit confused. There's an altar, some seating, some slightly dated wood paneling, and a painting of Our Lady holding the infant Jesus. Why is there no iconography of Christ's ascension?

And then you look up, and there in the ceiling, in a silver plaster cloud, are a pair of feet sticking out from the ceiling. It's a bit hard not to giggle at first, at the absurdity of the whole thing.

And of course, as you look closer you see not only the hem of Jesus robe — Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ – but also the wounds in Jesus' feet, from the crucifixion. Great rays of uncreated light shine out as his body ascends away from the Earth. Healing, glory, and the sacred wounds.

And then, after prayerfully reflecting for a while, you might still have a giggle. Because the whole thing does look a bit silly (as well as possibly a bit naff).

Which is really what faith should be like. A stumbling block and a foolishness, St Paul tells us. I suspect that our ability to preach Christ, and him crucified, is too often hamstrung by our desire to also make him socially acceptable and our faith a perfectly normal response to the challenges of human existence.

Perhaps this day, this Feast of the Ascension, let your faith be a little more absurd, more extravagant in its loving and less at ease with the fiction of a 'normal' reality. Because such an absurd faith has no room for racism, for violence, for deceit and lies and harm — all the ways we try to protect our fragile sense of identity and run from our fears. Instead, enjoy the absurdity of our faith and then, like Mary and the disciples, return to the world "constantly devoted to prayers."

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