Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
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
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK