You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
Having read my Reflection last week, my friend Simon told me about a decision he had to make recently. He is happy that I share it with you as he felt it may help others. He said:
‘Listening to the Epistle being read at Mass the other Sunday it came to me, that I should volunteer to read in Church. How hard is it to read aloud a few verses from the Bible; especially as the Church needs a few more readers? But then came the Gospel reading from Luke 18, the parable concerning the Pharisee and the publican praying in the Temple. Now doubts arose in my mind. What was my real motive for volunteering to read? Was it to help the Church, the vicar, or was it so that the congregation would look at me as I stood at the lectern reading to them from the Authorised Version of the King James Bible? “Look at me standing here, on a raised dais above and in front of you all, am I not important? I can read these arcane words, can you?” Was it my own pride, my self importance leading me to volunteer? In other words, was I acting just as the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable? Then again, I thought of the difficulties of driving in the icy perhaps snowy weather. At my age could I commit to making the journey in all weathers? Supposing I forgot that it was my turn to read? Was I really offering to read to serve God or my own selfish ends? I spoke to a wise old friend who said: “In you I see a willingness to serve as called. Pride comes from a dark, evil place and that is not how I see you. Service and response to a call comes from God” In his words I recognised the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius where in the Call of the King exercise he pictures the risen Christ calling every person to follow Him. Suddenly the decision became clear. The voice I heard was God’s call to serve Him so my response must be to follow. If reading Scripture is what God has called me to do then that is what I must do, and to the best of my ability – ‘for the greater glory of God’.’
As a result Simon is now on the approved list of readers for his Church. But the question remains for us all: when God calls how do we respond? In his book What is Ignatian Spirituality David L Fleming SJ reminds us: ‘Our response occurs now. We are not to be inhibited by our own weakness and failure. We are not to ponder our unworthiness.’
But do we still put up barriers, walls, excuses? Or do we embrace His call whole-heartedly? Remember: ‘ Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.’ 1 Peter 5:7 NIV and: ‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead’ James 2:26 NIV.
We all have to make a thousand decisions every day. Many are easy and can be made without thinking; blinding flash moments really, since the answer is obvious. Sometimes though the decision requires a lot more thought and consideration, like choosing a life partner, changing jobs or maybe taking on an additional responsibility. In such cases it can help to write down the pros and cons. Equally, it might be useful to talk things over with a trusted friend or relative.
Speaking of blinding flashes remember the story of the hot-headed young Pharisee and Christian persecutor Saul on his way to Damascus with letters from the high priest to the synagogues there, (Acts 9: 1-19), so that ‘if he found any there who belonged to the Way he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.’ Acts 9:2 NIV. Nearing Damascus a blinding flash caused him to fall to the ground as Jesus asked him why he persecuted Him. Now he was really worried. Whilst he had once been a student of the more liberal Rabbi Gamaliel who as a member of the Jewish Council advised against punishing the early Christians severely, yet Saul had rebelled against his teacher by allying himself with the corrupt hierarchy of the Temple. Maybe the old man had been right all along, he might have thought.
Suddenly Paul had a life changing decision to make. Should he continue with the high priest's orders or side with those of ‘the Way’? On the one hand he was a well thought of young Pharisee who, if this mission was successful would be held in high esteem with the priesthood. Think of all the wealth and status that might bring. Anyway, was this voice he had heard real? After all his companions heard a noise but did not see anyone. Yet when he got up he could not see anything; he had to be led by the hand to Damascus. The whole event was deeply troubling yet he knew he had to make a decision, one way or the other. He had spent the next three days turning the matter over and over in his mind, but unable to come to a decision when Ananias came to the house where he was staying. Whilst the Bible does not say so, I suspect that they spent some time discussing what had happened but ultimately: ‘Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit’ Acts 9:17. The decision had been made! Thanks be to God.
In our decision making we must talk things over with our best friend, the one who loves us and wants the best for us - God; the same God who appeared to Saul. Let us pray for God’s help whilst remembering that whilst there are no guarantees of success, whatever decision we come to He will love us just the same.
The church notices on Sunday asked that if anyone had excess fruit or vegetables, as they would be very welcome to leave them in the church porch for others to help themselves, in exchange for a donation to church funds. A reminder, if one were needed that autumn starts on 1 September and the trees are already heavy with fruit with crops ripening in the fields. Very soon the Church will celebrate Harvest festival as it has done for ages past. Indeed, three, agriculture related pilgrimage festivals are mandated in Exodus 23:14-17, whilst the manner of their observance is described in Deuteronomy. To this day our Jewish brethren know the autumn festival of Ingathering as Sukkoth which historically celebrates the wandering of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, when they had to rely only upon God for food and protection as well as celebrating the last harvest festival before the onset of the winter rains in the land of Israel. Those winter rains in their turn watered the ground making it fertile so that it provided food for the coming year; it still does and so the cycle continues. As our ancestors did all those years ago, we celebrate the bringing in of the harvest each year with gratitude. Thanks to God for providing the rain and the sun to give us such abundance of food but also for the opportunity to share some of God’s bounty with others in need.
Then I remember an old grace said before meals: ‘Bless, O Lord, this food to our lips and us to thy service.’ The festival of Sukkoth then reflects that prayer asking that God blesses us and gathers us into His Family so that we may be of service to Him. Just as we bring fruit and vegetables to the Harvest Festival service so each of us has a unique talent to bring to the table to offer in God’s service, and we are called to do so, for as Teresa of Avila said ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks out his compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.’
After the service, I saw Joan carrying in a big box of pears from her garden to add to the collection of fruit already in the church porch. She remarked that it is surprising how much money accumulates in the wall safe!
But the real question is: Are the abundance of talents with which God has blessed you being used as wisely in God’s service?
In his homily this week Father Graham reminded us of the robin who earlier in the year had been busily flying around the garden collecting twigs, leaves and etc to make her nest in which she would lay her eggs, hatch and fledge her chicks. In due time, he reminded us, she would pass those nest making skills on to her young so that they could build their own nests next year. The birds have flown now but here in the human sphere.....
Having taken their school exams before the end of last term, these last few weeks have been an anxious time for teenagers in England and Wales. The results were due out! The question on everyone’s mind was “Will I get good enough grades to go to University or get the Apprenticeship or the job I want?” Last week the final results were issued to floods of tears, of joy or of sadness depending on whether the necessary grades had been achieved or not. Some will have had no problems. They will have attained the expected top grades to go to the University of their choice; others will get there by the skin of their teeth whilst for others still, a change of career might need to be considered or perhaps, a further year at school.
Whatever the results may have been, in the next month or so parents will be waving a tearful goodbye to their offspring, as they venture out into the wide world on their own. From now on they will have to fend for themselves; but have we prepared them properly? They can cook but can they wash their clothes and look after themselves? It is hard to watch your child fly the nest but then, mother, you always knew this time would come, even if you tried hard to forget it, it is what you raised him for. You can take comfort in the fact that he knows how much you love him, and indeed how much he loves you – even though he may be shy in telling you. That love will not diminish once he has left home, in fact it will grow as he matures into the fine young man you brought him up to be. After all, like Mother Robin you passed on your skills, but more importantly you instilled your strong faith in God in him. We pray that that he will continue to hold firm to that faith. Remember, too that God loves you both and will walk with him (and with you) in all the excitement, the trials and tribulations of this latest step on his pilgrimage. In any case, it will not be too long before he returns home, a grown man but still your loving and loved son.
Let us pray for those students starting out whether on a University course, an apprenticeship or paid employment, and for those who are re-sitting some of their exams.
Let us pray too, for their anxious parents and families.
One of the birds still in evidence at present is the beautiful black swallow. Swallows are migrant birds so that later this month, and certainly by early September, they can be seen gathering in groups on telegraph wires preparing to migrate to escape the cold northern European winter. They will make the six week journey to the very south of Africa flying quite low and covering 200 miles each day, resting each night in huge flocks at traditional stopover spots. Sadly, many will die of starvation or other predations; but if they survive, they can live for up to sixteen years. Early next year they will make the hazardous return journey to return to the UK to breed.
Like swallows Christians have for centuries undertaken long, hazardous journeys often taking years to complete that became known as pilgrimages. Before the end of the first century AD pilgrims were making the perilous journey to the Holy Land, taking refuge at night in hostels along the way. Many were robbed by bandits as they went, many died en route. Today Christians still undertake pilgrimages. Some will, for example make the 500 mile pilgrimage along the Camino to the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, in northwest Spain where the remains of the Apostle St James are said to be buried. At this point it is important to emphasise that the statues or the relics are not the focus for the pilgrim’s devotion but rather a visual aid; they are certainly not something to be worshipped in themselves. The road to Compostela is well trodden but still arduous with each day presenting new challenges to be faced. But then pilgrimage is an essential part of life and living for Christians, since we see life itself in terms of a journey, coming from God and returning to God. Each day is a part of our pilgrimage through life with its associated difficulties and dangers so that, like the footsore pilgrims and the swallows, we must be prepared to face the challenges that come our way.
Why not try starting the day by giving God a couple of seconds on awakening and saying simply: “Lord God today is your day. Help me to do your will today.” Throughout the day do everything as best you can for the honour and glory to God. Find God in all things. At the end of the day, in God’s presence, say ‘thank you’ for the good things that have happened and sorry for your faults and failings
This prayer might help: ‘God of our pilgrimage, you have willed that the gate of mercy should stand open for those who trust in you; look upon us with your favour that we who follow the path of your will may never wander from the way of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Amen.
With prayer and with God by our side we will, like the swallows and pilgrims, be well prepared for our journey through life to attain our Eternal Home.
Let me say at the outset that this is not a political website, rather it is one devoted to Christian reflections. However as Christians we are called to make a stand against evil where or whenever it rears its ugly head. The evil, in the form of one race asserting its supremacy over another, that we witnessed at Charlottesville over the weekend demands that we make a stand.
As a simple but, I believe, powerful response I invite you all to join together with me, please at 12 noon on Thursday 17 August 2017 to pray the prayer attributed to St Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me a channel of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt faith;
Where there is despair hope;
Where there is darkness light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born
To eternal life.
Please also invite as many of your family, relatives and friends to join with us for Jesus said: ‘For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’ Matthew 18:20 NIV
Last Sunday at church Gwen reminded me, gently, that Lillian usually sat in the seat I was occupying. Of course she intended no malice. I suppose the ladies had been sitting together in those particular seats for so long now that it felt a little strange to have someone else sitting there.
Yet her words reminded me how we often jealously guard our own space. Just watch the efforts of the crowds on the High Street as they dodge about trying to avoid bumping in to one another; you can almost see the walls around them. The problem with walls is that they separate – that is their function – they enclose and they exclude. Yet we all tend to build walls, consciously or subconsciously; walls to keep Them out. Not that any of this is new of course. Consider for a moment William Shakespeare’s play, the Merchant of Venice written in 1596 around the time the Inquisition forced the expulsion of all Jews from France, Spain and Portugal. In Act 3 Scene 1 he has Shylock say; ‘I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?’ Shylock’s plea still rings true today, but has society changed over the last 500 years? Governments have passed legislation regarding to race relations, religious tolerance, and sexual equality but has any of that changed our personal attitudes? Are we any more understanding now of those of a different ethnic origin, religion or sexuality? I am not sure we are. We can see Them as awkward, demanding, difficult to understand so that getting along with Them may not be easy. But then Jesus set us an example; He mixed happily with tax collectors – the scum of the earth – prostitutes and some really not quite nice people. Indeed, St Matthew records Jesus as saying ‘love your enemies’ Matthew 5:44, and goes on: ‘Be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect’ Matthew 5:48. Now God knows I am not perfect and I doubt if many of you are either, but since that is what Jesus is calling us to do should we not at least make the effort? After all as St Paul wrote: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love ’. 1 Corinthians 13:13 KJV - a love for Them.
Let us break down all the walls that separate, that enclose and exclude. Let us Love our neighbour as Jesus commanded us.
This Sunday I made sure I left Lillian’s seat unoccupied but, you’ve guessed it, she was on holiday
Have you noticed that there do not seem to be as many birds about as there were in the last few months? Where have they all gone to? After all the fuss and bother of mating, laying eggs and feeding the newly hatched offspring, it is time for them to take a rest before getting down to the business of stocking up on food for the coming winter months.
In a similar way at this time of year many of us will be taking a well earned holiday, a break from our everyday work. Perhaps we will visit friends or relatives, or take a trip to a favourite place, whilst the more adventurous may venture further afield. In any case, it’s all a welcome respite from the daily routine.
Can we take a break from this ‘God bothering’ stuff, too? No! Since God is with us, and within us we cannot leave God at the airport check-in desk, to pick Him up in the Arrivals lounge on our return. God is coming with us, wherever we go! In fact, God invites us to step aside from the busyness of our daily life precisely so that He can make himself known to us. Rest from the daily grind is essential, but just as important is spending time recharging our spiritual batteries. So, will we spend the boring flight reading a trashy novel from the airport bookstall? Why not download one of the countless Bible Apps to our mobile phone to read? Much more edifying! Anyway, when was the last time you really spent time reading the Bible? Remember listening to God through Scripture will transform our lives. And why not use some of the time spent lazing on the beach as an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with God? How can we deepen it? Again, with all the night life at the resort there may seem to be no time for prayer. Yet, the simplest prayer is to say thank you God, and there will be so many reasons to express our gratitude to Him; maybe for meeting new people, renewing old acquaintances or perhaps just the fact that the daily pressures are not there. There is always a reason to offer a prayer of gratitude.
Some will not able to get away from home this year. Yet just looking out of the back window to see the neighbour’s cat stalking across the yard after the birds, listen to the kids playing in the street, the sun shining on the pot plants, perhaps the sound of the air conditioning unit keeping our neighbour cool, even here we can offer a prayer of gratitude.
In our pursuit for rest and recuperation we must never forget our time for prayer and reflection. Gratitude and thanksgiving for God’s gifts will surely be the most significant prayers at this time.
Oh, and keep an eye out for the birds as they return to the task of refuelling for winter.
I am not an expert gardener I just enjoy spending time outside; sowing seeds in pots, nurturing them before finally planting them out and watching them grow. There is always a lot of pruning and tidying to do around the garden but that is half the fun of it.
Some of the early flowering plants have finished blooming now. It is time to collect their seeds for next year. The technique is very simple; just cut a stem and place it in an envelope, head down so that the seeds collect in the bottom - and don’t forget to label the envelope! But as long as those seeds remain in the envelope at the back of the drawer they remain just seeds. Only when they are sown in pots and eventually planted out do they show their full potential. After flowering they will in their turn produce a further abundance of seeds and so the cycle continues. It always amazes me how many seeds one plant will produce, but each seed has the potential to grow into another beautiful plant. And still there are enough seeds left over for the birds to eat. An example of God’s gracious bounty! Jesus had something to say on that score: Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24 NIV. So, I can sow seeds, feed and water them but they will never achieve their full potential until they are planted out and receive the sunshine and rainfall they need to develop that only God can provide.
Is our life like those seeds? We may think we have all we need; health, wealth, family and friends. What more do we want? Yet sometimes we may feel that there must be something missing in our lives. What is that deep ache that comes on every so often? The answer is quite simply a yearning, a need for God. God does not want us to remain simply dull, dry, brown seeds packed tidily in an envelope never displaying our full potential; God wants to be a part of our lives. God has a plan for each of us, even if we were not aware of it before. Indeed we may never know what that plan is but since God made us, cares for us, loves us and promises to walk with us every step of our journey through life it must be for our benefit.
We all have the potential to make a difference in the world, even if something quite small. Let us ask God to help us to develop that potential for the greater glory of God. After all: ‘The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night and said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you”’. (I Kings 3:5). If God was prepared to help Solomon He will surely help you and me.
‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ the Gospel says (Matthew 22:38), yet if I were to ask you who your neighbour was I suspect you would reel off the usual suspects, the sick, the hungry the dying and those in need. Yet is that a complete list?
I am not very good with things mechanical or electronic, mainly because they often seem to have a mind of their own. As I was born in an age before computers were anything more than an idea in some boffin’s mind, it is amazing to me that you are able to read this on the World Wide Web – which again hadn’t been invented at the time. I remember reading that someone once said that one day we will need four computers to run the world! Now everything seems to have a computer inside it. Yet they can be so frustrating. For example, the other day I lost all Wi-Fi connection. Not a major concern in the scale of the world’s problems, I know but frustrating and annoying all the same. Equally worrying was the strange message on screen asking me to log in to an unknown site. Don’t do that!!! How to solve the problem? My wife had an idea. She rang Sally, who used to live next door, to ask if her husband could ring sometime to advise me. No problem, Sally replied. However, Kev didn’t ring; he appeared on the doorstep before we had placed the dishes from the evening meal in the dishwasher. Now since he works in London and having finished work, travelled home on a crowded train, and may not have had a meal yet, for him to make the effort to come round so promptly was I thought going the extra mile (Matthew 5:41). He quickly diagnosed the problem and resolved it – the unknown site turned out to be essential to solving the problem, not a scam after all. A quick cup of coffee - all he would take - and he was on his way home.
In a way, his kind, prompt and helpful action reminded me of the parable of the Good Samaritan Luke 10:2 9-37, though my difficulties were nowhere on the scale of the poor chap beaten up and left on the road, of course!
Now let me ask you the question again: who is your neighbour? The clue lies in Luke 10:36-37 where Jesus asks: 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” In the same way, by figuratively crossing the road to help me, Kev is just as much my neighbour as those on the earlier list.
What neighbours do you have to thank God for today?
This reflection was inspired by a Daily Reflection on the website www.henrinouwen.org. Do visit it if you are not aware of Henri Nouwen’s work.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years