Tag Archives: doubt

21 December: Zechariah.

 

ossyrianfire

 

On glowing coals your incense plumed and rose,

and tendrils, wisps of smoke, entwining vines

of perfume circled round the holy throne,

round holy presence, round what faith enshrines.

O Zechariah, priest of God and seer,

in God’s eyes good, so good and true, yet you

were unprepared for Gabriel’s appearing:

you balked. But some, condemning, misconstrue.

Before the angel’s majesty and mien,

before unfathomed worlds spirits behold,

to me, your doubts, your dread – how right they seem:

before your silence gained what he foretold.

O Zechariah, made mute, but little flawed,

you shall live to see, to see your God.

(Luke 1:5-25)

SJC

Sister Johanna sent us this sonnet that distills the essence of her reflections on Zechariah. Thank you Johanna!

Will.

 

 

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December 19. Zechariah, an unlikely Advent Star, VI.

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Behold, since you did not believe my words, which will come true at the appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened (1:20).

Gabriel’s words are penetrating and packed with meaning. His sees more deeply into Zechariah than Zechariah sees into himself. And so, he first reveals Zechariah’s disbelief to him: “…you did not believe my words…” I suspect that Zechariah is pretty numb by now, and, as it were, unable to get his head around anything that is happening. But Zechariah might still be capable of inwardly assenting to the truth that Gabriel speaks about himself. I see him nodding: yes, he is disbelieving, at the moment. But because we are so often mysteries to ourselves, it can be a relief sometimes to learn a ‘home’ truth. We feel the light that that truth brings and are grateful. I imagine this being so for the upright man, Zechariah.

Then the Archangel Gabriel adds the magisterial phrase “…which will come true at the appointed time….” To my mind, these words are further words of reassurance for Zechariah – and for us. No matter how weak or disbelieving we might be in the face of the unexpected and unfathomable divine command, we cannot interfere with what God ordains. The upright Zechariah desires the fulfilment of God’s word. Gabriel’s prophecy is God’s word, and it will come true at the appointed time, no matter what else is happening in Zechariah or in the world at large. Just wait and see, Zechariah, Gabriel seems to say. God’s word is always an effective word. What God says will happen will indeed happen.

Finally, Gabriel tells Zechariah that he will have no power of speech until God’s word is fulfilled. Now, I believe that the Archangel Gabriel knows exactly what kind of man he is dealing with in Zechariah, and I do not interpret the angel’s words punitively here, either. In yesterday’s post, we were meditating on our need for time and prayer when we are confronted with something from God that we cannot grasp. I therefore see the Angel’s bestowal of silence upon Zechariah as a necessary condition for absorbing what he has experienced – which is so other, so unearthly, so wonderful. This silence can be understood as an expression of God’s mercy to Zechariah. I live monastic life, after all, and monks and nuns know that silence is a privilege not a penance. Silence allows us to live in an environment that is conducive to the deepening of our relationship to God. God knows that this good and upright man needs time now, and protection from the usual trivialising tendencies of speech in order to ponder his word and absorb what has just happened to him in the temple. What’s more, I imagine Zechariah welcoming this silence in the way a thirsting man welcomes a spring.

 

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11 May: Getting in the Way

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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.

CC.

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April 23, 2017: Be Grateful to Thomas!

Last Easter – well last Low Sunday – we visited Plowden, a small country church which would have been crowded if seventy people had gathered there. It was comfortably full, and comfortably friendly.

The priest, Fr David, was a visitor as well. If his homily had been written down, I would have published it here, but he said that he prepares his homilies and then lets them flow, hoping that the Holy Spirit can get a word in edgeways.

Well, the Spirit made an impression. One thing I will share. I paraphrase, wishing I could have recorded Fr David’s every word:

Saint John wrote for us, knowing that a different sort of Faith would be needed after Jesus had gone. We should be grateful to him for showing the disciples not understanding Jesus, betraying him – except John himself who stood by the Cross to the end. And we should be grateful to Thomas for his doubts – people do not come back to life, do they? Saint John tells us what we need to hear, that the twelve, whom Jesus had trained up for three years, doubted, let him down.

But Jesus came back, smiling, with no recriminations, just ‘Peace be with you’, and ‘touch my wounds.’

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And those are two excellent mottos for our task of spreading the Good News.

MMB.

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22 April: Easter Saturday. Beyond doubt?

Easter Saturday

Image from http://www.otherood-devos.com/2015/04/believe.html

Mark 16:9-15

‘He reproached them for their obstinacy and incredulity because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.’

There is a strong temptation in me not to believe good news until it is proved to me beyond doubt. Perhaps, somehow, experience has taught me that it’s less of a trauma to be proved wrong by good news than to hope for good news and be let down by bad.

The challenge I take from Jesus’ reproach is this: can I praise and thank God for His goodness to me before seeing the desired outcome to my prayers? What if I don’t see the results I hoped for? If I believe God is the Lord of my whole life and is all good and directs everything for my good then I should be able to praise Him whatever happens in my life. But the temptation is always to wait and see God’s goodness proved on my terms before I will trust Him.

I feel God is currently asking me to take up the challenge of the advance ‘thank You’. Can I offer God right now the unseen outcome of all my intentions, and thank and praise Him in advance? I pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit to move me, like the eleven disciples, from a default state of disbelief towards the astonishing ‘assurance’ shown by Peter and John in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:13-21).

FMSL

 

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