Tag Archives: disappointment

4 March. Desert VII: Relative progress.

Jack Lonnen Meadows in costume 1

Today we visit a different desert. Chesterton is writing about relativism in 1905, a century before Pope Benedict warned of its dangers. The passage is from Heretics, Project Gutenberg edition. GKC’s argument is that there actually is something we can call good. It leads nowhere to speak of ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’, but rather the truth, which is always imperfectly grasped, as any scientist would tell you. Relative truth is not what we go into the desert to seek. While avoiding obvious dangers, it is good to search for the truth, to sweat and even to be crucified for it.

An enormous unspoken disappointment has fallen on our Northern civilization. All previous ages have sweated and been crucified in an attempt to realize what is really the right life, what was really the good man. A definite part of the modern world has come beyond question to the conclusion that there is no answer to these questions, that the most that we can do is to set up a few notice-boards at places of obvious danger, to warn men, for instance, against drinking themselves to death, or ignoring the mere existence of their neighbours.

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”

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July 8, Readings from Mary Webb XVII. Good-Bye To Morning

speedwell
Mary Webb’s girlhood, as we read yesterday, was a magical time, spent largely out of doors. In adulthood her hyperthyroidism caused her much suffering and brought abut her early death at 47. Here she faces that eventuality.
I will say good-bye to morning, with her eyes
Of gold, her shell-pale robe and crocus-crown.
Once her green veils enmeshed me, following down
The dewy hills of heaven: with young surprise
The daisies eyed me, and the pointed leaves
Came swiftly in green fire to meet the sun:
The elves from every hollow, one by one,
Laughed shrilly. But the wind of evening grieves
In the changing wood. Like people sad and old,
The white-lashed daisies sleep, and on my sight
Looms my new sombre comrade, ancient night.
His eyes dream dark on death; all stark and cold
His fingers, and on his wild forehead gleams
My morning wreath of withered and frozen dreams.

darkevening

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28 January: you are my happiness; Brownings III.

Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning

Elizabeth Barrett is writing to her dearest, Robert Browning, telling him something she had been unable to put into spoken words.

“Dearest, you know how to say what makes me happiest, you who never think, you say, of making me happy! For my part I do not think of it either; I simply understand that you are my happiness, and that therefore you could not make another happiness for me, such as would be worth having—not even you! Why, how could you?

That was in my mind to speak yesterday, but I could not speak it—to write it, is easier. Talking of happiness—shall I tell you? Promise not to be angry and I will tell you. I have thought sometimes that, if I considered myself wholly, I should choose to die this winter—now—before I had disappointed you in anything. But because you are better and dearer and more to be considered than I, I do not choose it.

I cannot choose to give you any pain, even on the chance of its being a less pain, a less evil, than what may follow perhaps (who can say?), if I should prove the burden of your life. For if you make me happy with some words, you frighten me with others—and seriously—too seriously, when the moment for smiling at them is past—I am frightened, I tremble! When you come to know me as well as I know myself, what can save me, do you think, from disappointing and displeasing you? I ask the question, and find no answer.”

On the firm basis that the good things of this world point us towards the eternal, let us take to heart some of what EBB says here. I daresay something else will strike you, dear reader, but I will reflect on: if you make me happy with some words, you frighten me with others—and seriously—I am frightened, I tremble!

Either Elizabeth took Robert’s promises and proposals seriously, and trembled, or smiled and dismissed them. Either I take God’s promises and proposals seriously or …

From “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning, available on Kindle and on line.
Image free of copyright via Wikipedia

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11 December: Visitors to Isis Prison.

valentine.photo

Prison ministry can be demanding and discouraging. I remember Fr H telling me how the father of one of my pupils had at first been keen to speak with him, but kept out of H’s way when he returned to prison after being caught offending again. Drugs were a problem for him: and despite that discouraging incident, I think Fr H must have played some part in his rehab. When next I saw my pupil’s dad he was clean and looked 20 years younger.

Our friend Fr Valentine left us for prison chaplaincy. Wisely, he has recruited volunteers, including these university students, to bring a breath of fresh air into the place. On this occasion they spent an evening debating with the prisoners. Read about it here:

  • Where can you exercise a ministry of friendship?
  • Let us pray for all prisoners who will be inside at Christmas, especially those who will receive no messages, or very few, from outside. And let us pray for the prisoners’ families, as well as those affected by their crimes.

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22 November: The Road to Emmaus V

Easter Sunday

The two disciples aren’t finished yet. They have a few more things to say to Jesus:

…[T]his is not all: two whole days have now gone by since it all happened; and some of the women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they could not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing (Luke. 24:21-24)..

Cleopas and his friend do not seem to be able to remember anything that Jesus had prophesied about himself during his lifetime. Maybe grief and shock had made them forget everything. Maybe Jesus’ prophecies had been so horrifying to the disciples at the time that they simply “blanked” them. But Jesus cannot be faulted for having failed to warn his disciples. He had, on numerous occasions, told them plainly that he would be crucified, and would die and be buried, and then, after three days, would rise from the dead. Neither of the disciples seemed able to recall this now. But Jesus, like the superb healer he is, listens intently in silence while they vent their feelings of confusion and disappointment.

At last, they pause. They have finished their tale. Maybe they are feeling a bit empty now, but surely they know they have been heard – you can always feel it when someone is listening with his whole heart. As a result, they themselves are perhaps better able now to listen than they have been all day. And Jesus does not fail to make use of this opportunity. He is bold and forthright:

You foolish men! So slow to believe all that the prophets have said! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer before entering into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself (Luke. 24:25-27).

We are not told what the disciples did while Jesus spoke to them. Presumably, they continued to walk along as he talked. They seem to have been reduced at last to silence. What was this experience like for them? I imagine that they must have gone through a swift succession of feelings, beginning perhaps with dismay over being called foolish and slow. But no doubt they moved quickly to a state of some amazement at the stranger’s penetration into the situation they had described to him, and from there into a state of wonder, joy and even to a feeling of hope that they could not understand immediately. Here at last was someone who could make profound sense of everything that had happened. Here was someone who was picking up the shattered pieces of their lives and making them whole again.

Happily, this is an experience that I can say I know about also, even as I know of the distress and bewilderment that these two disciples had felt. Jesus never abandons those who love him and seek him sincerely, even if we seek him wrongheadedly. Perhaps especially then. Perhaps this endears us to him.

In my experience of discipleship, enlightenment does come. Eventually. Or, at least, partial enlightenment comes. And, by the time it comes, I am usually so happy to have it that I will accept it thankfully in any form. But, as is the case in this story, full enlightenment – the recognition of the Jesus himself in a new form – usually comes to me later, when reflecting on my experience through prayer. The disciples here are enlightened enough to be loath to part with this wonderful stranger, but that seems to be all they know. They don’t see yet that he is not a stranger.

SJC

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21 November: The Road to Emmaus, IV; they do not know they are praying.

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The disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognise Jesus. But, as always, Jesus does not seem to be at a loss – I doubt he was surprised in the least. He knew who he was dealing with, knew what they needed. He therefore draws them out to begin with. He asks them what they had been talking about: ‘What are all these things that you are discussing as you walk along? They stopped, their faces downcast’ (Luke. 24:17). How poignant this is for me. The One who knows all things, delicately asks these two dull-eyed, dreary men to tell him what they had been discussing. Surely, Jesus knows that in asking that question, he is asking not only for an account of recent events; he is also saying covertly, Tell me what is making you so downcast. He is giving them another opportunity to hash everything through. But this time, it will be different. Cleopas and the other disciple do tell Jesus all about their experience. But they are not merely talking to each other now, pooling their bewilderment and sorrow. They are talking to the Risen Lord.

This, perhaps, is the first prayer to the Risen Jesus that any of the disciples had made. The two here don’t know it at the time, but they are praying, telling Jesus all about it, placing their hurts and disappointments before him – and not, incidentally, without a little dig: “Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.”

Yes, haven’t there been such times in my life? Haven’t I often said something similar to the Lord – and I do not even have the excuse of not recognising him. Haven’t I said something like, “What are you about, Lord? You don’t seem to see what is going on!” I can just hear the incredulity in Cleopas’s voice, the tones of bitterness:

You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ He asked, ‘What things?’ They answered, ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth, who showed himself a prophet powerful in actions and speech before God and the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.

There it is, the monumental wrongheadedness: ‘Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.’ Whatever the disciples had managed to learn from Jesus during his earthly life, all the gospels bring out that there was one thing they never seemed to grasp: that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, and his power would never be exercised after the manner of earthly rulers and politicians. On the contrary, his kingdom was within, and the revolution he would bring about would change us as individuals on the level of our hearts. These interior changes would draw us into a community of believers, united by faith and hope in Jesus, and in love of him. In this community each person would strive to be the servant of the others. Power games or displays of domination would have no place whatever in his kingdom.

Why didn’t they get that? The same reason I don’t get it, I suppose. Oh, I might not be so silly as to think that Jesus will snap his heavenly fingers and change world-scale politics. But, what about the petty politics I have experienced in my own little world? Haven’t I fumed about them? Don’t I find myself secretly hoping that Jesus will ‘fix’ all that? And when he doesn’t, don’t I struggle with dismay and anger? We are slow learners.

SJC

 

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11 December: Gaudete!

 

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Matthew 11:2-11

In the Gospels, Jesus often points to His works as evidence that God has sent him.  His presence transforms people’s lives, healing and bringing new life to all who will accept Him.  As a disciple of Jesus Christ, how could my daily life and work point to the presence of God’s Kingdom?

Isaiah 35:1-6, 10

Exult…rejoice and bloom, …rejoice and sing for joy, ‘Courage! Do not be afraid.’

…leap like a deer …sing for joy …shouting for joy, everlasting joy…joy and gladness …sorrow and lament be ended.’

James 5:7-10

do not lose heart… . Do not make complaints.

Matthew 11:2-11

Good News …do not lose faith

Today’s Scriptures tell me that signs of the presence of God are joy, courage and trust.

Is this the spirit in which I serve and work?

The tendency to lose heart and make complaints is all too strong, faced with the messes in my life and in the world.  But I cannot convey good news with a gloomy face.  Only by holding onto a deep faith in Jesus’ promises will I have the strength to show joy and courage, even in the midst of troubles.  This should be the sign in my life that accompanies the Good News I am called to share – the news that God is with us and will never fail us.

Emmanuel, during this Advent, let me not forget that your life and work gives me a reason to be happy.

FMSL

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16 September: Mirror, mirror … III

mirror (643x800)

Another reflection from Mrs T’s mirror: she copied this little list onto another scrap of paper, but I cannot find it now; it seems to have got blown away. Still, even if I’d forgotten the whole thing, Richard Rohr OFM, whose list it is, is well ensconced on the internet: see our link on the right for his website.

This is as good a vade mecum as you’ll find anywhere.

1) Life is hard.

2) You are not that important.

3) Your life is not about you.

4) You are not in control.

5) You are going to die.

Mrs T describes this as ‘tremendously liberating’, and it does give another way to look at the golden rule of ‘Do as you would be done by’ or ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Lots of worries can be revisited and laid aside, with this list in mind.

WT.

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April 4 Station I: Leaving Jerusalem

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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.

JMcC

 

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