Tag Archives: doubt

14 June: and yet …

Aberdaron Beach, below the church where RS Thomas was parish priest.

Yesterday, it seemed to me, the Anglican priest Thomas Traherne made the consolations of the spiritual life seem so readily available. Today, it seems as though those consolations can be very distant, beyond my grasp. My go-to bard for such moments of faithful doubt is another Anglican priest, the Welsh poet, RS Thomas. You could open his Collected Poems* almost at random and find the wrangled wisdom of a faithful doubter, a committed questioner. Faith, as to be fair Traherne said the other day, demands effort. Here is an extract from RS’s poem Inside.

... Inside me, 
stalactite and stalagmite,
ideas have formed and become
rigid. To the crowd 
I am all outside.
To the pot-holing few there is a way
in along passages that become
narrower and narrower,
that lead to the chamber
too low to stand up in,
where the breath condenses
to the cold and locationless
cloud we call truth. It 
is where I think.

Ideas have formed and become rigid: it’s the rigidity that stifles us. And then when RS Thomas reaches the chamber at the centre of his being he is forced to his knees. This is the ‘cloud we call truth’, and there will be times when we are given a glimpse of the light that lies beyond, sometimes through thought and meditation, sometimes as pure, unexpected, inexplicable gift.

The children building sand castles in the rain at Aberdaron were enjoying the moment together, despite the cold cloud raining over them. Let’s pray for the grace to live in the moment and to live in hope and truth.

*R.S. Thomas, Collected Poems, 1945-1990, London, Phoenix.

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3 March: THE FIRST SPRING DAY

Snowdrops at Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury, Manchester

THE FIRST SPRING DAY

I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun
And crocus fires are kindling one by one:
    Sing, robin, sing;
I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.


 I wonder if the springtide of this year
Will bring another Spring both lost and dear;
If heart and spirit will find out their Spring,
Or if the world alone will bud and sing:
    Sing, hope, to me;
Sweet notes, my hope, soft notes for memory.

.
 The sap will surely quicken soon or late,
The tardiest bird will twitter to a mate;
So Spring must dawn again with warmth and bloom,
Or in this world, or in the world to come:
    Sing, voice of Spring,
Till I too blossom and rejoice and sing.

Christina Rossetti

It feels here like Christina Rossetti never got out of doors, which was sometimes the case as she often was in poor health. The last verse reads like, ‘Pull yourself together, girl!’ She doesn’t much feel like rejoicing, but all the same is listening out for the voice of Spring, the sound of her Creator at work.

However miserable we may feel, let us pray this Lent that we may hear the voice of spring, ready to bloom in this world AND the world to come.

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5 April, Easter Monday: Johnson on the Eucharist

St Mildred’s Anglican Church, Canterbury, the Paschal Candle decorated with flowers.

‘Shall I ever,’ he asks on Easter Day, ‘receive the Sacrament with tranquility? Surely the time will come.’

from “Life of Johnson, Volume 2 1765-1776” by James Boswell

Doctor Johnson was staying with his friends the Thrales when he wrote this, well aware of his own sinfulness and the gulf that that could give rise to between himself and God, but also believing that salvation is ours: Christ has Passed-over through death to eternal life and so shall we. Believing does not mean being totally assured in my mind and heart that salvation is mine, and for the melancholic Johnson, all the theology in the world could not enkindle such certainty. Rather it is to accept the promise of salvation, even with a tiny part of myself, and forgive myself for my unbelief. Even a mustard seed faith can leaven the lump that I am; I can receive the Sacrament in fear and trembling, but at the same time, at a deeper level than my doubts, with tranquility.

Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1Corinthians 5:6-8)

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31 December: May I no longer linger in perplexity

In Holy Week 1776, Samuel Johnson sat down to review his new year’s resolutions. This is his record.

Since last New Year’s Eve I have risen every morning by eight, at least not after nine, which is more superiority over my habits than I have ever before been able to obtain. Scruples still distress me. My resolution, with the blessing of God, is to contend with them, and, if I can, to conquer them. ‘My resolutions are—
‘To conquer scruples.
‘To read the Bible this year.
‘To try to rise more early.
‘To study Divinity.
‘To live methodically.
‘To oppose idleness.
‘To frequent Divine worship.


 ‘Almighty and most merciful Father! before whom I now appear laden with the sins of another year, suffer me yet again to call upon Thee for pardon and peace. ‘O God! grant me repentance, grant me reformation. Grant that I may be no longer distracted with doubts, and harassed with vain terrors. Grant that I may no longer linger in perplexity, nor waste in idleness that life which Thou hast given and preserved. Grant that I may serve Thee in firm faith and diligent endeavour, and that I may discharge the duties of my calling with tranquillity and constancy. Take not, O God, Thy holy Spirit from me: but grant that I may so direct my life by Thy holy laws, as that, when Thou shalt call me hence, I may pass by a holy and happy death to a life of everlasting and unchangeable joy, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

from Life of Johnson by James Boswell.

Two phrases caught my eye: ‘at least not after nine’ – an admission that he had not been quite as faithful as he first thought; I’m sure there are areas where I can be less than honest with myself in this way. And the second: Take not thy holy Spirit from me.’ That implies a degree of conviction that the Holy Spirit was with him. You may agree, when you read Doctor Johnson’s thoughts on slavery next month, that the Spirit was with him.

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24 November: Lines written in Uncertainty

See the source image

The lights are shining dimly round about,
The Path is dark, I cannot see ahead;
And so I go as one perplexed with doubt,
Nor guessing where my footsteps may be led.

The wind is high, the rain falls heavily,
The strongest heart may well admit a fear,
For there are wrecks on land as well as sea
E’en though the haven may be very near.

The night is dark and strength seems failing fast
Though on my journey I but late set out.
And who can tell where the way leads at last?
Would that the lights shone clearer round about!

These lines were written by the artist Aubrey Beardsley in 1891, 7 years before his death from consumption, and 6 before his reception into the Catholic Church. It chimes with Newman’s ‘Lead Kindly Light’. Beardsley’s sensuous life clearly did not satisfy him; but he produced startling images such as Salome with the Head of John the Baptist.

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26 September: Prayer at the start of an academic year.

Samuel Johnson was a journalist and writer rather than an academic, though he often went back to Oxford. He wrote the following prayer on this day in 1765; it seems totally appropriate for the start of this academic year, when resolutions to study well may be difficult to keep without the support of tutors and fellow students. Have a good year!

Almighty GOD, the giver of wisdom, without whose help resolutions are vain, without whose blessing study is ineffectual; enable me, if it be thy will, to attain such knowledge as may qualify me to direct the doubtful, and instruct the ignorant; to prevent wrongs and terminate contentions; and grant that I may use that knowledge which I shall attain, to thy glory and my own salvation, for JESUS CHRIST’S sake. Amen

Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765″ by James Boswell.

Image, Johnson’s statue, Lichfield

Sourcehttps://www.flickr.com/photos/ell-r-brown/3672680073/
AuthorElliot Brown

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10 August: Dylan Thomas: Doubts and confusions to share with the Brownings

I read somewhere of a shepherd who, when asked why he made, from within fairy rings, ritual observances to the moon to protect his flocks, replied: ‘I’d be a damn’ fool if I didn’t!’ These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.
  from Collected Poems, 1934-1952 by Dylan Thomas
And that’s what it came down to for EBB as well. She had her share of doubts and confusions, as we saw in her feelings about Robert’s love for her, but she came to trust him.
Dylan was another complicated character, but not quite a total damn’ fool. Love the words, he said, love the words. Which is how Robert was first attracted to EBB.

  
Dylan looked out over this seascape from his study in Laugharne.
 

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Going viral XIX: Where is God?

It was a headline in another website: ‘Where is God in a pandemic?’ followed by ‘We don’t know, but can you believe in a God that you don’t understand?’

I wonder, can I believe in a God that I do understand? S/He would hardly be a God – or a god – if I could understand him or her! Faith seeks understanding, says Saint Anselm, faith does not depend on understanding.

The Passion – that is, the life and death of Jesus – tells us that God is here in our suffering as he is in our joys. We pray for all suffering from illness, those caring for them in any way, and those who have been bereaved, and all who have died.

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March 24: Before the Cross XI: The Truest Love of All

christ acc2

 

If clouds of doubt should ever fall,

A fog so thick that I should cry:

Is this the truest love of all –

Where men still suffer, bleed and die?

A quiet voice might ask of me

What other love I thought so true

What greater, deeper love I see

More heartfelt than the God I knew?

 

See there, beside the poor and weak,

Among the broken, there, he stands,

And with the voiceless, there to speak

With grieving heart and nail-pierced hands.

Abandoned once by dearest friends,

He meets the lonely, brings them near,

His mercy and gentle presence mends

Souls bound by bitterness and fear.

 

And he would show me in my prayer,

His woundedness, his cross, his shame:

The truest love of all was there –

There, even there, he knew my name.

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27 May, Trinity Sunday: Doubt and Faith by Father Andrew.

BL3.Newton.small

 

I do not fear for any honest intellectual doubter, but I do fear for any life that has lowered its standard. If i did not believe that God is Love, then I should turn the sentence round and say Love is God; but I should think Jesus a richer symbol of love than Venus.

I don’t think for a moment doubts are bad. I think, in a sense, one’s mind was made to doubt; but if ones mind was made to doubt, one’s soul was made to aspire, and if one uses both mind and soul, one will attain to a faith that is strong and true. ‘It is intolerable to think that our ideals themselves should perish, that nothing worth existing should have any continuance or growth, that the world of values should have no relation to the world of fact.

From The Life and Letters of Father Andrew, Ed Kathleen Burn, London, Mowbray, 1948, pp169-70

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