Tag Archives: despair

7 February: Helping and Helping 5, The Lodging House Fire II.



If we read his Autobiography of a Supertramp, we learn that Davies did spend time in the libraries but lacked the energy to get the most out of being there because of sitting in front of the Lodging House Fire. What would he have done with a mobile phone? Played mindless games all day?

I gave myself over to the influence of the coke fire. After going out in the morning for two or three hours, I would return at midday, often earlier, and sit hopelessly before this fire for ten or eleven hours, after which I would retire to my room. What a miserable time was this: the kitchen, foul with the breath of fifty or sixty men, and the fumes of the coke fire, took all the energy out of a man, and it was a hard fight to keep awake. It has taken the play out of the kitten, and this small animal lies stretched out, overcome by its fumes, without the least fear of being trodden on. Sometimes, when I endeavoured to concentrate my mind, with an idea of writing something, it was necessary to feign a sleep, so that these kind hearted fellows might not disturb me with their civilities. On these occasions it was not unusual for me to fall into a real sleep. And, when I awoke, it sickened me to think of this wasted time; for I was spending in bed more hours than were necessary for my health, and it was a most cruel waste of time to be sleeping in the day.

This fire exerted a strange influence over us. In the morning we were loath to leave it, and we all returned to it as soon as possible. Even the books and magazines in the libraries could not seduce me longer than an hour.

There was one seat at the corner of a table, which I have heard called “the dead man’s seat.” It was within two yards of this great fire, which was never allowed to suffer from want of coke. It was impossible to retain this seat long and keep awake. Of course, a man could hardly expect to keep this seat day after day for a long winter, and to be alive in the spring of the year. This was the case with a printer who, unfortunately, had only three days’ work a week. The amount he earned was sufficient for his wants, so, in his four idle days, he would sit on this seat, eating, reading, but more often sleeping, until before the end of the winter, he was carried away a dying man. Some of these lodgers claim to be able to recognise in the public streets any strangers who are suffering from this coke fever.



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September 8, Jesus Beyond Dogma, VI: Hope – courage blossoms out of fear

good shepherd mada3

God is totally other, we cannot say God is like… which suggests that our behaviour – good or bad – has no relevance for God, reminding us that the foundation for hope involves setting aside being concerned about our goodness or badness [I’m not as good as I think I am, nor as bad as others say I am]. We are involved with something that has nothing to do with our worthiness or it’s opposite.

We are being offered what is totally gratuitous – irrespective. When we reflect on the parable of the workers, in which the latecomers receive the same pay as those who have toiled all day [who hasn’t sympathised with them?] we see that God can never give less than all of himself to everyone. What is in our remit is how we receive this gift – do I even recognise that I have it – do I behave as if I am self-starting and self-fulfilling. Revelation tells us that God gives us to ourselves in order to become what we are receiving as life progresses – gift for others. I’m not asked am I worthy, but am I willing.

I have a friend who is doing heroic things to help the poor and needy – a veritable example of Gospel value; he is alcoholic and his personal life leaves much to be desired. It seems that being unconcerned about his personal worthiness seems to free him up to bring support and hope to so many. How different things would be if he had been restricted by the reality of I’m not good enough! Hope doesn’t mean saying be of good heart, all will work out in the end.

Hope says here is good news for me here and now. Working with Samaritan volunteers on one occasion I asked a seasoned volunteer to role play, and present herself as suicidal. One of the volunteers interviewed her and did well, until she said and always remember we love everybody here – the role player got up and left. The volunteer asked why. We don’t want to be part of everybody, we want to be somebody. Hope is me being asked to be there for others, not in spite of who I am, but because of who I am – warts and all.

It is not for us to provide goodness, bringing light into dark places that starts from our own goodness. This is where the Spirit is active, enabling us to bring good news and to foster well-being, despite our complicity in selfish living.

Only those unpreoccupied with their own goodness or badness are free enough to build what is good [and probably have no idea that this is what they are doing]. Hope for others issues solely from the total otherness of God, not from ourselves. When Jesus said I have come for sinners he is telling us that he can make my story indicative of the story precisely by removing my preoccupation with my unworthiness.

We receive ourselves from what is other than us, be that other violent or kind. Just so it is by receiving ourselves from other than us that makes us children of Abba – the original giver of life:

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is – 1John.3.2.


Good Shepherd from Madagascar

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11 May: Getting in the Way

garden.gate.metal. cc


There are times when life doesn’t go our way. We make plans, and unanticipated events unmake them. It can be as simple as a delayed train, or as devastating as sudden ill health. We are going along, with some idea at least of what shape our day might take, or what form our life might take, but then everything unravels in the face of something we didn’t expect. We are left asking, ‘Where am I? Where do I go now?’

The unexpected happening gets in the way. If it’s a pleasant surprise we’re happy to be diverted, but even then we might feel a little thrown. But when something painful, difficult or threatening crashes in, we can be shaken to the core, bewildered by the turn of events and left with no clear sense of our bearings. I remember sitting down on a London bus and looking up to see the notice by the door: ‘NO WAY OUT’…not the sort of message you hope to receive when life feels uncertain!

There is another sense in which we sense something or someone stands in our way. We have a good intention, even one we sense comes as gift of the Spirit; but we also see an obstacle and it seems formidable. Perhaps it’s about finding work that is meaningful and makes a difference but the jobs don’t seem to be there. Or perhaps we sense we have something to give but doubt that it will be valued by others. Or perhaps it is a persistent call we sense to place our daily life more deeply in God, but we can’t seem to find the time or the means to pray.

Seeing the barrier on our mental map we might not even begin the journey. Or when we walk right up to it and see its size and hear its noise we might give up the task for hopeless. But what if the pull to make the journey continues to be strong? And what if this desire seems to come not just from our self-will but from some inner place where God’s Spirit dwells? Then we might be willing to go on walking trusting that in time we will arrive. But where will this arrival point be? It might be the place we imagined or somewhere entirely different and surprising. God knows.

I recently went for a walk, having planned my route on a map showing all the footpaths, I knew where I wanted to get to. But what stood in the way was a busy dual carriageway. The map showed a footpath running up to its edge and another starting on the other side immediately opposite. There had to be an underpass or a bridge… There wasn’t…

I understood how Moses and the Egyptians must have felt when faced by the waters of the Red Sea. There are no zebra crossings on motorways…

I might have turned back, but the lure of the destination was strong, and so I trudged along the road’s noisy edge for a long mile, searching for a crossing point and finally – when almost at the point of giving up – reached a turning that took me to the other side. I wasn’t on the path I first thought of but now new possibilities for the journey opened up for me. This, rather than the route I had imagined in the beginning, was now my path.

Jesus says, ‘I am the Way’. The Way moves on from where we are, and not from some other place. We don’t know where in detail it will lead us, but it will lead us somewhere. The obstacles we perceive are not barriers to this way; in Jesus they become the Way. All that has happened to us is part of the Way. All that might happen in the future – wanted or not – will also takes its place within the Way. Our part is to pluck up our courage and take hold of our desire and walk: a Way has to be travelled.

This Way might not after all, follow the path we envisaged and may not lead to the destination we imagined. But a Way that can lead someone through the dead ends of betrayal, ridicule and death on a cross, and yet lead to unbounded risen life, is always to be trusted.


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A Letter of Hope from Syria


Whatever happens in Syria, the L’Arche Community is still living its vocation. Here is a letter (in English) reviewing the last year at Christmastime.

We have celebrated Christmas in joy, as faced with our daily situation, celebrations are a call to us not to be drawn into deadly sorrow. Celebration is the best remedy against the absurd and despair.


Please pray for all Christians and Muslims living the call not to be drawn into deadly sorrow.


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April 9, Station VI: They returned to Jerusalem


MMB – Caernarfon at Eastertide.



The Lord is Risen! [33-35]

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying,  ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon’.

Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.


Hurrying back to Jerusalem they find that they are not the only ones who have had their grief and despair turned so suddenly and mysteriously into wonder and joy and new found faith: The Lord is risen!

There are two things to notice here.

  • The first is the transformation of these grieving, fearful men and women into joyful witnesses, eager to tell others what has happened, to spread the Good News/Gospel.
  • The other is the Good News itself: that Jesus, who was crucified, died and was buried, has been raised from the dead. Death has been shown to have no power over him. The powers that had opposed him and what he stood for had seemed to triumph when they had him crucified. And now they are shown to have been powerless: it is God and God’s way that has triumphed.
  • The joy now being experienced by the disciples transforms them into true disciples, responding once more to the call to ‘follow me’, and doing so now fully aware of what it means: ‘take up your cross and follow me’.
  • And they now know where that will take them: not just back to Jerusalem and the community of disciples, but that community—the Church—must now ‘take up the cross’ and live the way of the cross, which means choosing the path of forgiveness and reconciliation over every form of violence, strong in faith because freed from the fear of death.

upperroom tomdog

What is this like for us today?

We can perhaps first of all reflect on our own personal experience of having been on this journey, and take our bearings on where we find ourselves.

  • The call to discipleship is addressed to each of us personally: Unless you take up your cross and follow me you cannot be my disciple’. The journey of faith will have its own story which no one but ourselves can know or tell. And it will have its own stages—detours and delays—which only we can know.
  • And so we may find ourselves a little short of the finish, of the joyful transformation experienced by the two disciples. It could also be that we can remember having been there or somewhere close to it, and have since lost ground… That’s OK, it’s very much part of the journey, the Way of the Cross. What matters is that we hold onto the assurance given us that we are not alone: the one who calls us to follow him is always there, walking with us, even though ‘our eyes might be held’ and we do not recognise him.But we need also to make a practical, down-to-earth assessment of what it means to have made this journey in faith and now to find ourselves, at the end of it, ‘going back to Jerusalem’, the ‘Church community’ of which we are part.
  • What are we bringing with us? How can we ‘make a difference’? Where to start…?
  • It is worth remembering that the two disciples didn’t know what it was going to be like when they returned to Jerusalem. What if nothing had changed and they found the other disciples still huddled in fear?
  • But such thoughts and fears seem not to have entered their heads. They just wanted to tell what had happened to them, to share their joy and the new life that had been given to them. Nothing else mattered but to let their friends, and everyone, know the Good News that Jesus has been raised from the dead and is with us, making everything new ‘in God’s name’.


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April 6, Station III: Our Own Hopes Had Been…

Our Own Hopes Had Been… [19-24]

We now come to the account the two disciples give to ‘the stranger’ of what happened. What the stranger/Jesus is doing is listening to their experience of what happened, and as we listen with him—which is what we try to do at this station—we can become aware of several things.

    • The first is that in pouring out their experience it is clear that they cannot understand it, still less accept that it makes any sense at all. It should not have been allowed. The unspoken question, their cri de coeur, is: Where was God? Why did God allow it to happen?
    • That’s not a million miles from the way we might have experienced it if we had been there. All the more reason then to pause a little longer at this Station.
    • If we pay closer attention to what they say we will surely recognise the Gospel story, only it is not ‘Gospel’/Good News! It is their experience of the story, told from ‘a purely human’ point of view, and it is heavy with the weight of failure and ‘loss of faith’.
      • First, there is the failure of the religious authorities [our chief priests and rulers] to recognise and accept Jesus of Nazareth as the prophet he had shown himself to be: ‘mighty in word and deed before God and all the people’. And not only that: They had delivered him up to be condemned to death.
      • And now they admit to a faltering in their own faith: ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
      • They then go on to talk about something else that has happened, something that seems to have disturbed them even more than the death of Jesus, and which has probably driven them to leave Jerusalem: ‘Some women of our company have amazed us’. They say they have been to the tomb and did not find his body but that they had ‘seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive’. Some others [presumably men!] had gone to check for themselves ‘and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see’.
  • It is at this point that the stranger ‘breaks in’, upbraiding them for their lack of faith, so slow to believe. But before going there we should allow ourselves to be questioned also, and to hear what we might say in reply.

What is this like for us today?

  • How do we try to ‘make sense of’ the crucifixion of Jesus, and of the apparent powerlessness of Jesus—and of God—to prevent it?
    • This is not about theology but faith, about trusting and accepting that God’s power, and way of doing things, is very different from ours.
    • Do we believe/accept that? What difference does it make to the way we actually live, and make decisions?
  • When we talk—argue, complain—about what is happening, or not happening, in the Church today do we hear ourselves like these two disciples, telling it as we see it: needing it to make sense [our kind of sense]; and, of course, finding someone to blame [our chief priests and rulers]?


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April 4 Station I: Leaving Jerusalem

pilgrimsindunes (2) (800x342)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened [13]

Luke begins with two disciples walking away from Jerusalem. The sudden collapse of their world, of all their hopes and dreams, is just too much to bear. They had been sure that God’s Promised One, the Messiah, had come. Jesus had shown in so many ways that the Power of God was in him, and yet he had been shown to be powerless when ‘the powers of the land’—religious and secular—had taken charge of him, put him on trial as a blasphemer and impostor, and had him crucified as a common criminal. And now he is dead, and disgraced. Their own highest religious authorities had rejected him—in God’s name—and it seems they had been proved right: God had done nothing to save Jesus, to rescue him from death, to prove to the religious authorities that they were in the wrong.

It was too much to bear and they simply had to get away from Jerusalem, put distance between themselves and these terrible memories… and yet they are still talking about it, torn by a whole Babel of feelings—totally confused and close to despair, yet also filled alternately with fear and anger, and of course grief, tinged probably with guilt.

What is this like for us today?

I’m sure we can all remember times when we went through something similar: discouraged, down-hearted, confused, angry, feeling let down by God, by the Church. We just want to get away from it, and put distance between ourselves and the Church or God. But we can’t get it out of our head (or heart), and we keep coming back to it: complaining, blaming, arguing, disagreeing…but still needing to talk, because ‘it won’t go away’.

Perhaps it will help to take stock now of where we find ourselves on ‘the Road to Emmaus’, a road initially ‘away from Jerusalem’ that is actually a searching for ‘the way back to Jerusalem’?

Only when we let ourselves, and each other, know what our hopes had been‘, and how we think we’ve been ‘let down’, will we be able to explore these in the light of ‘what the Gospel is actually calling us to’.

We may well feel that we’ve talked about this ad nauseam, and it’s time to do something about it. But it will be good to hold ourselves in check at this 1st Station, stay in the company of these two disciples and spell out what we are angry or discouraged or confused about.



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