You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
With the social media available to us today it is possible to see, hear and comment instantly on any event taking place anywhere in the world. Whilst the images we see can show one side of the event only and so not reflect the whole picture that does not stop some people from making comments on social media before knowing the full facts – and there have been many examples of that recently sometimes by people who should know better. A period of reflection often leads to a more measured response. On this point Thomas Merton once wrote: “There are many declarations made only because we think other people are expecting us to make them. The silence of God should teach us when to speak and when not to speak. But we cannot bear the thought of that silence, lest it cost us the trust and respect of men.” Equally it is easy to distribute images of any sort on social media sites even those inciting violence or hatred; these may be exaggerated but who knows?
Now think for a moment, how often have you said something in haste and immediately wished you had not? Sadly, once spoken the words cannot be recalled, the hornet’s nest has been disturbed, the damage done. All words have an effect on the hearer in some way; whether they are words of sympathy, consolation or sarcasm, insulting or otherwise harmful. Here the advice of St Peter when writing to the communities of young churches of Gentiles in Asia Minor around 60 AD is appropriate: Whoever would love life and see good days must keep the tongue from evil and the lips from speaking deceit. 1 Peter 3:10. Indeed, both St Peter’s and Thomas Merton’s advice holds good today just as it did when first written. The bedrock of our faith is our love for God and our love for our neighbour. (Matthew 22:37-39) These are two sides of the same coin since our love of God must be evident from our actions towards and the way we speak to and about our neighbours. Does what we say reflect respect or disrespect for our fellow man? In what way should we reflect the values of God’s peace and love towards those we live or work with? What more can we do to reflect those values? We must not forget that our neighbour loves his family and children as we do. He too will become sick and will die as we will. We must realise that he and his family are God’s children and members of the same human family as we are.
This begs the question, which is more important the respect of man or the love of God? What do you think?
Loving Father, I pray that you will teach me to guard my tongue and guide my words so that I may speak to and of my neighbour only with kindness, respect and love. Amen
Since Tom wrote the prayer I posted last week there have been several more terrorist atrocities reported, and possibly others that have not made the news media frenzy. Are we becoming desensitised to these attacks?
When more innocent lives are lost like this we often hear the cry “Where is God in all this? Why does He allow such things to happen? ” Indeed some people point to attacks like these as proof that there is no God and ask why we believe in such out dated mumbo-jumbo. “If he is such a great God he could stop all this if he wanted to, but he doesn’t” they cry. Now, whilst we know that God is not some fancy Disney style wizard who will wave his magic wand for everything to turn out OK, sometimes when things get really dark we may be tempted to see their point and ask why God allows these things to happen. In the Garden of Gethsemane even Jesus cried out “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46
In her book Footprints Margaret Fishback Powers writes: When we find ourselves questioning God’s reason for allowing certain things to happen, we must stop and remember God’s faithfulness and depend on his grace. Whatever our questions, whatever our circumstances, God is still in control. She quotes Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We cannot know what God’s plans are but we do know that those plans do not include the murder of innocent men and women, the incitement to racial hatred, the unrelenting pursuit of power and wealth. These are man’s plans.
So, the question we should be asking is not “Where is God in all this?” but rather “Where is man in all this?” and it is not hard to find man’s grubby fingerprints all over the picture. Now, God gave us free will, a choice; the choice to be the richest, most powerful man in the graveyard or maybe not so materially well off but having the promise of a life of eternal bliss.
God has not forsaken us He is there and has a plan for us; He is in control. But it is for us to make the choice; continue in our selfish ways – man’s plans - or turn to Him and follow the path laid down in the New Testament. When we do turn to Him He will be there to meet us for we are His beloved children for whom His love is unconditional.
Loving Father, when your son Jesus was faced with the hatred intolerance and injustice of this world His answer was to offer love, compassion and justice. Lord, we pray for the grace to follow His example that the world may live in peace in accordance with your Divine commands. Amen
Over the week end marches have taken place in London and elsewhere in the UK in support of those in America under the banner Black Lives Matter. Now, this is not the place to get involved with the politics of the organisation but simply to take up the message of the group’s title, Black lives matter. Sadly, racial hatred and the incitement to racial hatred have been with us for a long, long time. More worryingly it shows no sign of diminishing. In my lifetime alone some 6 million or so people were murdered simply because they were Jewish yet still we do not seem to have learned the lesson. People are still being killed because of their race and people who should know better are still encouraging racial intolerance.
Racial hatred existed in Jesus’ time too, of course. In fact as Sunday’s gospel reading, (Luke 10:25-37), tells us Jesus uses that point to answer a question from a scholar of the law who asks Jesus “And who is my neighbour?” In response Jesus relates the parable of the Good Samaritan. You will remember that two good Jewish men, a priest and a Levite passed by on the other side of the road rather than help an injured fellow Jew. The one person who did stop to offer help was a Samaritan. Now over the years the Jews and Samaritans had become sworn enemies so one might have expected him to pass by too, but he did not. He “was moved with compassion”, and stopped to help. But he went further than that by putting him on his own animal and taking the injured man to a hostel for the night. He then stayed up to look after him and when he left the following day paid for his further care. Not what one would expect from a sworn enemy. Indeed he really went the extra mile for this man whom he did not know but for whom he felt compassion. When asked by Jesus which one of the three passersby was a neighbour of the injured man the scholar had to admit that it was the Samaritan. And what was Jesus’ response? “Go and do thou likewise.” So there you have it. No matter how difficult it is, how unpleasant the situations in which we find ourselves or how much we are put out we are called to love our neighbour, whatever his race or creed.
I was heartened to hear a young lady tell the Channel 4 TV news reporter at the rally that all lives matter whether black or white. She is right since we are all made in God’s image and are all His children. Her words give me hope for the future and I pray that that message will be received loud and clear around the world. It is time for us to put all this racial abuse, hatred and intolerance behind us and follow Jesus’ commandment to Love thy neighbour.
This week I offer you something different from my usual reflections.
Appalled by the apparently increasing number of terrorist attacks and the subsequent loss of life my friend Tom from St Louis USA asked ‘What can we do? We want to let people know that life is a precious gift from God and that we value the lives of those around us. These are real human beings whose lives have been ripped from them or forever changed in this violent way. They are loved by someone.’ His answer was to write a prayer that might be used by people or even churches, following an attack like the one that just happened in Istanbul. I reproduce that prayer here since, as Tom says, I hope it might be helpful for you.
‘O God of Life and Promise, you break into our today and tomorrows with the offering of your life-giving presence. We pray that you will come alongside us now in the face of this tragedy that has taken the lives of many of your people; your breath stolen violently from them. Draw their families and loved ones close to you now and hold us all in your arms of comfort and healing. We pray for you to renew the lives of those who are injured in this attack that they may be restored to productive life again.
We give you thanks for the people you send to help in the midst of this horrific situation. They act in your stead to bring comfort and seek healing for your suffering people. Strengthen them for the essential work they do when all seems hopeless and many people feel so fearful and alone.
Lead us also to give our lives to be signs of your loving, life-giving promise in the world you love so much. In your goodness and mercy forgive us for taking life for granted, and fill us with a new spirit of openness, peace, and gentleness. Open our hearts and minds to do what we can to bring aid and comfort where we are able. May we love and care for people who are your precious gift to us. In this time when human life seems so cheap, and is brutally plundered so violently without remorse, use us to show how precious your gift of life is for us all; each breath an offering to be cherished.
Bring an end to the desire of some for vengeance. destruction and death. In your gracious way forgive them and change their hearts toward love instead of hate.
Bring your peace and healing to our broken world and revive your Spirit of love in us all. In your name we pray. Amen.’
May I ask that we all take a few minutes at 12 noon on Friday 8 July to make this prayer together since: “When two or three are gathered together in my name I am in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years