Tag Archives: bitterness

29 March: Avoiding bitterness

Reverend Robert Walker skating

An excuse for revisiting Raeburn’s portrait of his friend Robert Walker, is this quotation from one of his sermons.

Too many of those who make a profession of religion … indulge themselves in a bitter, censorious disputation, more allied to peevishness than either to virtue or religion … their conversation is gloomy, their countenances and manners forbidding. From such unfortunate examples, it is too often rashly concluded, that the nature of religion itself is harsh, melancholy and severe.*

These days we have perhaps lost much of the gloominess, though covid and climate change do tempt some to adopt that attitude. What seems to persist is the censorious disputation which can become bitter. Let us pray for the grace to see ourselves as we are in relation to others, and to step back from disputation that divides and brings the Church into disrepute.

Perhaps each one of us needs time to be alone with God and nature as Robert is here. Not much skating this winter in Kent, but walking is always available, free of charge, to set the spirit free.

*See The Skating Minister, by Duncan Thomson and Lynne Gladstone-Millar, Edinburgh 2004, p33.

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23 February: In the Desert

A contrast from the last two posts by Edward Young: Stephen Crane encounters a man, gnawing away at his own heart, self-destroying. Can he hear the word ‘friend’ addressed to him? It appears not. No small talk here!

It seems he has chosen self-centred bitterness over the friendship we have been reading about that would help draw him out of the bitterness of despair. But that risks getting hurt; it’s easier to like, or accept, bitterness than gamble on happiness. Edward Young makes it clear that friendship has to be cultivated; what can you cultivate in the desert?

Let’s pray for those consigned to the desert by the abuse they have suffered from other people’s malice or neglect.

In the Desert

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”

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16 December, The heroism required is that of patience: II

Stirring up for Christmas: Abel was pleased with his work and he gave pleasure to others.

Christmas is not only the mile-mark of another year, moving us to thoughts of self-examination: it is a season, from all its associations, whether domestic or religious, suggesting thoughts of joy.

A man dissatisfied with his endeavours is a man tempted to sadness. And in the midst of the winter, when his life runs lowest and he is reminded of the empty chairs of his beloved, it is well he should be condemned to this fashion of the smiling face. Noble disappointment, noble self-denial are not to be admired, not even to be pardoned, if they bring bitterness. It is one thing to enter the kingdom of heaven maim; another to maim yourself and stay without.

And the kingdom of heaven is of the childlike, of those who are easy to please, who love and who give pleasure. Mighty men of their hands, the smiters and the builders and the judges, have lived long and done sternly and yet preserved this lovely character; and among our carpet interests and twopenny concerns, the shame were indelible if we should lose it.

Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality; they are the perfect duties. And it is the trouble with moral men that they have neither one nor other. It was the moral man, the Pharisee, whom Christ could not away with. If your morals make you dreary, depend upon it they are wrong. I do not say “give them up,” for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better and simpler people.

Whatever happens this Christmas, let us not be dreary or bitter, but come in and join the children and the childlike. Be loving and give pleasure! It is well to be condemned to the fashion of the smiling face: it might just stick!

Robert Louis Stevenson,1888, A Christmas Sermon. widely available on-line.

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November 26: Winter overtakes Autumn.

Hoar frost at Nonnington, Kent.

Bitter for Sweet

Summer is gone with all its roses,
  Its sun and perfumes and sweet flowers,
  Its warm air and refreshing showers:
    And even Autumn closes.

 Yea, Autumn's chilly self is going,
  And winter comes which is yet colder;
  Each day the hoar-frost waxes bolder,
    And the last buds cease blowing."

From Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti.

With a different title, this would have been a straightforward descriptive poem but maybe we should think again. Summer, Autumn and Winter; why no mention of Spring and the hope it brings? Because the poet is feeling bitter, or examining bitterness?

There are people today, Christian people, who seem to have lost hope and become bitter. It was not Christina Rossetti’s default position, but clearly one she experienced and understood. Disappointment in love, twice over, may have contributed.

Not for us to succumb to bitterness. There maybe naught for our comfort in the news about the climate and the future of our grandchildren across the world, but we must acknowledge the reality of the bitterness and the realities that contribute to it. Which of those can we make even the smallest dent or scratch in? What do we, can we, repent of?

I’ll be out litterpicking tomorrow. That’s two spiritual works of mercy, I reckon: to instruct (by example) the ignorant who leave rubbish about, and to bear wrongs patiently. It’s a start.

And if winter comes, can spring be far behind?

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31 March, Desert XXXIII: It’s good to be here.

Christina has kindly allowed us to use an extract from her book, which we thoroughly recommend; find it on Amazon or through the publisher’s link below. But for now, take a step into her personal desert.

The yearly losses of strength and abilities – lifting up my arms, feeding myself, brushing my own teeth, breathing without labour – these are the hardest things to bear … The circumstances of my life altered my childhood, undermined my teenage years, and rendered me into an adult who is completely dependent upon others for everyday survival. My body has been wracked with the pain of angry weeping, my bones crying out with shuddering grief, and my mind seized with the heartache of my life. And yet …

I am not bitter.

I pine for independence, for a family of my own, and I mourn the physical losses, the sickness, the shortened lifespan. And yet … I am very glad to be here.

Why am I glad? I ask myself. Even I wonder at how I can be the generally content, grateful and joyful person that I am. Over and over I have asked myself why I, cripple that I am, continue to have a deep love for life.

Why?

Because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.*

* See Psalm 139:14.

Christina Chase, It’s Good to be here, Sophia Institute Press, 2019, pp6-7.
https://www.sophiainstitute.com/products/item/its-good-to-be-here – to order the book from the publisher.

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19 January: Church Unity Week, Unusual Kindness II.

murillo migrants

Image: Migrants waiting by Oscar Murillo, Turner Prize exhibition, Margate November 2019.

This year’s reflections for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity were prepared by the Churches in Malta and Gozo. We are sharing elements of their prayers, but please follow the link for the full resources for personal or community prayer.

Naturally, the Maltese Christians draw our attention to the story in Acts 27-28 of how Paul, a prisoner in chains, was among a group who survived being shipwrecked on Malta.

And when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm lay on us, all hope of our being saved was now taken away. (27:20)

Reflection – Transfusion 

I believe another not Him.

A cup of bitterness taints my being.

My eyes fail me,

I lose the light and my life disengages and halts.

Movement, spied in my darkness frightens then brings relief. I am not dying alone but dying we are.

The battering storm of hope denied, will abandon us to fate.

A flicker flecks my blindness I fall prostrate as flecks materialise into Him, my true and tender Father.

Held in His unbreakable arms I still…

The storm may do its worst.

Slathered in His salve of love, Hope’s transfusion gently renews my being: Do not fear the pain; it sings the song of life.

Prayer

Father, Your precious word illumines our steps and without You we remain lost and disorientated.

Holy Spirit, teach us through Your word and each other to travel our Father’s path together, walking gently on Creation.

May each gathering of Your people in churches everywhere crave Your guiding, consoling and transforming presence.

Give us the honesty we need to recognise when we lose or obscure Your light for others. Give us grace to hold onto You, ready and able to share Your light.hrist’s light

We ask this in the name of Your Son Jesus, who calls us His followers, to be light to the world. Amen.

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12 January, Temperance VI: Temperance, Restraint and Anger.

hionahill

One of the important aspects of the virtue temperance is that it is not just about our physical appetites. It is about all our appetites, and develops our ability to handle such emotions as intense fear, desire and anger. And so, it complements moderation with something that uses perhaps more ‘muscle’ – and that something is restraint. Restraint is that power of soul whose act is to choose. In so doing, it curbs the desire for immediate gratification by showing us that we may fulfil our being more truly by making a reasoned choice than by gratifying an impulse that is coming (as in the case of anger) from a hidden desire for vengeance.

Restraint has particular relevance to the passion of anger. Anger can be a very strong passion indeed, and it is worth dwelling on it for a moment. St. Thomas grants that some forms of anger are useful: the anger that surfaces in regard to injustice, for example, and any kind of abuse. Anger is a necessary passion in these circumstances. I would go even further and say that there are some situations to which anger is the only healthy response. But, once again, anger must be directed by the light of reason. Intemperate anger can be destructive and abusive itself, and St. Thomas would not allow that it is good to fight violence with violence. This is where restraint comes in. Blind wrath, bitterness of spirit, revengeful resentment: these forms of anger are highlighted by St. Thomas as being the most dangerous aspects of anger and therefore most in need of the curbing powers of restraint. Blind wrath, he says, is anger that is immoderately fierce and destructive. Bitterness of spirit is to do with a state of anger that lasts so long that it becomes a part of one’s very character and personality. In this case the offence remains in one’s memory, and gives rise to what Thomas calls ‘lasting displeasure’ that does not stop until punishment has been inflicted. Revengeful resentment is an aspect of this ongoing bitterness in which the disposition becomes chronically sullen and the mind is endlessly preoccupied with taking revenge.

When these aspects of anger are delineated here in writing, it is easy to see how harmful they can be – to ourselves and to others – but let’s face it: we have all been there and probably done it. I don’t doubt that many of us have at times been swept away by the intensity of our feelings and indulged in precisely the kind of angry behaviour Thomas describes. These temptations are part of the weakness we have as fallen beings. But the virtue of temperance brings good things to bear on this state of affairs. Through gentleness, justice and charity we can restrain the onslaught of anger.

Gentleness, contrary to what we might think, does not mean that we never feel angry, or that if we do, we can get over it almost before we feel the full force of it. Rather, gentleness is what makes a person master of herself, and therefore master of the power of anger, according to St. Thomas – for anger is a power, and as such is capable of accomplishing something good. Gentleness is about channeling that power rightly, dealing with the cause of the anger fairly, addressing the whole situation that gave rise to the anger in such a way as to change it for the better.

In order to do this, of course, we need to enlist the aid of our reason. We are back to the need to think. Our reason then, brings justice and charity to bear upon the situation that has caused our anger. Justice and charity working together with gentleness enables us to focus on something other than our own pain. We become able to focus on the feelings of the one (or ones) who offended us, on seeing the situation from the other side, and on effecting the changes that will lead to the establishment of peace – even if some of those changes are changes that need to take place within our own heart.

SJC

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August 7: Francis Thompson VI. THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: V

fthompson.pic.1

My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity,
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again;
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With grooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!

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