Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
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.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years