The following passage chimed with me when remembering a prolonged bout of ill health, during which time I spent many hours sitting next to the Aga cooker, chatting to my grandmother. What was said is largely forgotten, but one morning I said, ‘I feel hungry!’ for the first time in months. ‘Feed that hunger!’ she said, which good advice set me on the road to recovery.
But here is Mary Lamb writing to Dorothy Wordsworth in 1810 remembering their recent time together.
I hope we had many pleasant fireside hours together, but I almost fear the stupid dispirited state I was in made me seem a very flat companion; but I know I listened with great pleasure to many interesting conversations.”
From The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, 1796-1820, edited by E. V. Lucas.
Sometimes the ‘wallflower’ is quite happy just to be there with family and friends. In that kitchen of my parents’, there was always room for one more on the bench, however silent or vociferous they might be. Budge up!
A good friend read me a passage from a book on the philosophy of religion when I was about to work up this next section of the blog. You, and I hope my friend, will be pleased to learn that Sister Johanna Caton will be reflecting on ‘Realities that are Unseen’, very much a concern of the philosophy of religion.
That starts tomorrow, today a few verses from Omar Khayyám as translated by Edward Fitzgerald, who takes to the obvious (well, obvious to some people) conclusion the Psalmist’s reflection: ‘A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.’ Psalm 90.4. Will Sister Johanna share something to challenge the ‘nothing-but-ness’ of the poet?
For in and out, above, about, below,
’Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.
And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in—Yes—
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be—Nothing—Thou shalt not be less.
While the Rose blows along the River Brink,
With old Khayyám the Ruby Vintage drink;
And when the Angel with his darker Draught
Draws up to Thee—take that, and do not shrink.
From The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, by Edward FitzGerald.
The Eucharist is Mystery; mystery is not magic. Magic supposes there is no explanation or understanding – no way of entering-into the reality; whereas mystery invites participation in an encounter. This means a way-in to something greater than we are. Mystery is not something I can’t know anything about – but something can’t know everything about. How ludicrously wrong to say you can’t tell me anything about him – as if I can fit into my tiny mind everything about another person – when I can’t even know all about myself. Interesting to ask ourselves why did Jesus ask – who do people say I am?
To say we enter into something greater – to be with someone who can appropriately say we whereas I can only say I! What is happening for this to become my experience? The basic action of the Eucharist is sharing – not just eating. The experience this addresses in me is my experience of hunger. To be human is to be hungry, in the sense that I need more than myself to live fully – as well as food and drink, I need companionship and compassion… so many human hungers persuade me that I cannot be self-fulfilled. With all possible human hungers in mind – this is what Jesus means by I am the bread of life. Our Western culture persuades us that meal-times are essential and always available. There is no such thing as meal-time for the vast majority, who eat whenever food, affection and compassion are available.
If I am never hungry in any of these human hungers to the point of starving, it is unlikely that I feel for those who are permanently there. Compassion requires me to enter into the suffering of another simply because that is where they are [this makes sense of the ancient discipline of fasting before communion]. The obvious way to know about hunger is to be hungry. Hunger is intrusive; will not allow us to get on with anything else until it is attended to. When God created hunger he created a blessing – opportunity to experience so many good things. God created more than enough ways to satisfy every possible hunger – the fact of so much starvation serves to tell us what we have done with Creation’s good things, enough to make the experience of hunger a curse to be eradicated.