Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
No one quite knows how old the piano is, although it is likely to have been made 100 years or more ago. Whilst it has stood in its present position for over fifty years this was not its first home. It had once stood in the front parlour of the family home, where it provided pleasure to family and friends for many years. This was before the all pervading television demanded our 24 hour attention, in a time when we had to make our own entertainment. She would accompany her father who played violin. The whole house would echo with a beautiful rich sound of the piano as her fingers flew over its keys whilst he coaxed a melody from his favourite instrument. Of course there were times when she had to spend hours in the icy cold room practising for her music exams – no central heating in those days - up and down the keyboard endlessly playing scales. It all paid off when she received her diploma. Sadly it does not get played quite so much nowadays, arthritis having taken its toll on her fingers. Nevertheless the piano gets tuned regularly so it is in good condition; nearly as good as it was when it left the factory all those years ago.
So we can take from this the memories of the happy times or of the hard work needed to acquire her diploma. But what about the fact that the piano has to be tuned regularly? Do our lives need to be tuned up? Are we up to concert pitch or are there a few discordant notes in there? Or maybe we are not using the whole of the keyboard but just playing the black notes? Do we need to ensure that the focus of our life is where it should be?
Here is a quick five step way to check if you really are in tune with what God wants of you. Each evening try to spend a few minutes with this prayer review.
1 Thanksgiving. What am I especially grateful for in the past day?
2 Petition. I am about to review my day. I ask for the light to see myself as God sees me.
3 Review. Where have I felt true joy? What has troubled, or challenged me? Where have I found God today?
4 Response. In the light of my review, what is my response to God
5 A Look Ahead. As I look ahead what comes to mind? With what spirit do I want to enter tomorrow?
My Catholic friends will recognise this as a form of Examen but it really doesn’t matter what you call it, or from what tradition it comes. A regular tune up will ensure that we are all in harmony with God’s purpose for us. The beautiful rich sounds of God’s creation will echo through the house again. It will also help us to answer the next question; what more can I do for God?
Although it rained quite hard on Wednesday last week, the water drained away quickly with no resulting puddles on the lawn. Imagine our surprise when early in the evening we saw two unexpected visitors to the garden. Two brightly coloured mallard ducks, (drakes actually), had flown down onto the new lawn. From their plumage they looked to be young male birds. But why had they landed in our garden? There was not enough wind to blow them off course. Perhaps they were lost, but then birds have a pretty good sense of direction. The most likely explanation is that they mistook the reflection of the sun on our neighbour’s glass conservatory roof for a pond or lake.
Like the birds it is easy for us to get disorientated by the hustle and bustle of everyday living. Spend your money buying this product, cry the adverts, it will make you younger/fitter/more wealthy/regarded more highly by your peers – you know the kind of thing. Often it seems enticing to follow a certain course even though the ultimate result proves illusory – a case of chasing shadows. Yet Jesus said ‘I am the way...’ John 14:6. To follow Him and to act according to His commandments is the way to true happiness, joy, fulfilment. What clearer instruction do we need? Nevertheless, how often do we go astray?
Speaking of spending money now is the time the credit card accounts fall due for payment. With the work on the garden and some other rather large bills over the last month we have run up some heavy expense. Now comes the time of reckoning. The bills have to be paid, but how? It is going to be tight. Yet perhaps the birds were reminding me of Jesus’ words: ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’ Matthew 6:26 NIV. In other words, God knows and cares about the needs of all His creation. God takes care of the plants, the birds, even the ducks that have strayed off course into our garden, and so surely He will take care of us as well. We can rely on God to provide our needs. Note those words; God will provide for our needs, not necessarily our wants, unless our wants coincide with what God wants for us, of course. His unconditional love for us means that He cares for us even though we don’t always follow His way. That is no excuse for not trying of course!
Whatever the reason for their visit, the mallards spent a few minutes pecking at the grass, before flying away. We were delighted to see them, to recognise in them the glory of God’s creation but also to reflect on the messages they brought us.
Today some unexpected visitors may cross your path. Welcome them as they may have a message from God for you!
Recently I read Meeting God in Paul by Professor Rowan Williams, one time Archbishop of Canterbury. In its early pages he describes the environment in which Paul, a Jewish Roman citizen worked. One of the things that struck me was Professor Williams’ statement that there was no such thing as ‘a religion’ in the Roman Empire at the time. People did religious things and indeed there were countless deities but they were simply part of the universe. As one needed to be polite to people of a superior social status, since they could make life difficult for one, so it paid to be polite to the gods, as they could make life even more difficult! There were a variety of festivals at the various temples to attend if one wished but there was no sense of belonging to a religion – they were not what we might today call faith communities. Being religious was part of being a citizen. In other words our first century forebears did not make the distinction between a secular life and a spiritual one; to them it was all part of life. Our Jewish forebears were the exception that proved the rule for they attended synagogue regularly, but that was simply because they were Jewish. Indeed on the dedication of their first stone temple, “Solomon’s Temple,” the Shekinah glory of YHWH (fire and cloud from heaven) descended and filled the Temple (1 Kings 8:10-13), just as it had once filled the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 40:34-35). This naturally made Solomon’s Temple the centre of the whole world, in Jewish thinking.
Too often nowadays we tend to separate the secular from the spiritual. Too often we can think of God living in that Victorian monstrosity in the centre of town whose doors are locked throughout the week to prevent anyone getting in, but opened on Sundays to allow the select, privileged, invited few to perform their rituals. Yet God does not dwell in some plaster icon gathering dust on the wall of a church. For as St Paul loved to say, “You are the Temple!” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21-22). In other words God lives in you! God is not distant or aloof; He wants us to have a relationship with Him. God is everywhere in every living thing. You do not need to go to a church to meet God, He is right there, before you, behind you, alongside you, every step of the way. Of course, you will meet God in the fellowship of your Christian family at church and of course you will encounter God in the Eucharist, which is vital. But you will also find God in the smile of a child, the thanks of someone you may have helped, or even in the plants of the garden. There is no division between a secular life and a spiritual one.
The most comforting message of all however is this: ‘And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age’ Matthew 28:20.
The other day I had to go into a nearby town and as parking there can be difficult I decided to take the bus. Part way through the journey we were told to get off the bus and join the bus following – don’t ask why, we never did find out! As a result a lady sat beside me and struck up a conversation. In the course of it she told me that on the following day she would take five buses as she would be attending her dance group in a village someway in the country. I remarked that it would take her all day. “Oh yes,” she said “I leave home at 10am and get back around 6pm but I meet up with some friends for lunch before we go on to our dancing.” Now it is impolite to ask a lady her age so I did not, but suggest that she may have been in her 80’s. However, she obviously looked forward to her day out!
Whilst in town I wandered round a book shop. Yes, I know that you can download books, indeed I have already downloaded Henri Nouwen’s Road to Daybreak, but I prefer to hold a book and to turn the pages. Here my eye was taken by his ‘Life of the Beloved and Our Greatest Gift’ in one volume. I already subscribe to his email Daily Meditation so I had to purchase this slim paperback. On the bus coming home I had only read a few pages before two points struck me. Firstly, Henri tells of a meeting with a journalist whom he convinces to follow his dream. He says: “... people can make choices .... according to their own best aspirations. I also believe that people seldom make those choices. Instead they blame ... others for their ‘fate’ and waste much of their life complaining.” I thought of my sprightly companion on the bus looking forward to her dance group tomorrow. She was not going to let age or tiresome bus journeys get in the way of her enjoyment. The second point came from Philip Yancey’s introduction where he says: “Nouwen has said that all his life two voices competed inside him. One encouraged him to succeed and achieve, while the other called him simply to rest in the comfort that he was the beloved of God. Only in the last decade of his life did he truly listen to that second voice.” I can relate to that since my call to discipleship came in what may be the last decade of my life. I will never be as influential as Henri Nouwen, but perhaps that does not matter, for though we may think that our lives are too insignificant to have anything to offer, yet, with God, nothing is too small. The point is that whatever age we may have reached God has a purpose for us.
So, what will you do for God today?
To receive Henri Nouwen’s Daily Mediations go to http://henrinouwen.org/
The work on the garden is complete. The lawn is laid and the paving stones are firmly in place. There is a pleasant place to sit to soak up the sun – if we ever get any! Whilst all the work has been going on we have rather lost sight of what else needs doing in the garden. Since the lads have left we can see that the clematis needs tying in, the forsythia needs pruning, the firethorn needs cutting back or it will not produce berries for the birds this coming winter, and so on. In concentrating on the major work we have lost sight of the other bits and pieces that need attention. But we have also failed to see that the birds and animals have been getting on with their daily lives too.
Perhaps our lives are a bit like that. Are we too concerned with what seems important to us at the time? Does that stop us from looking around? Are we so caught up in the minutiae of everyday life that we cannot see what is before our eyes? In this week’s Lectionary reading, (Luke 24:13-35), the two disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus met up with a stranger along the way. However, because they were so tied up in their own world, their own thoughts, doubts, problems they did not recognise him. It was only when Jesus broke bread with them at their evening meal that they understood who their companion had been. They realised that Christ was not dead, He had risen! He was there walking the road beside them. Despite the lateness of the hour their first instinct was to rush back to Jerusalem to tell their fellow disciples the wonderful news.
When we stood in the kitchen the other day, mugs of coffee in hand, looking out at the garden planning our next move, we saw something rather strange. Two sparrows were dancing round each other on the lawn – well, to be precise one appeared to be dancing round the other. Whatever was going on? We eventually worked out that the dancer was the mother bird who was trying to teach her offspring how to forage for food for himself. Had we not paused to look out at that particular moment we would have missed seeing them, for as quickly as they had arrived they flew off again. God was there in those little birds, in that little display; but we nearly did not see it.
So, what prevents us from recognising God’s presence in our lives? What steps can we take to open our eyes to see Jesus in whatever disguise He takes on? Where did you see God today?
Let us open our eyes to see God and to recognise that He is always with us. He will walk with us, wherever we may go or whatever problems beset us. As the disciples discovered Christ is not dead, He has risen as He promised He would! Thanks be to God!
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years