The bell strikes one. We take no note of time
But from its loss. To give it then a tongue
Is wise in man. As if an angel spoke,
I feel the solemn sound. If heard aright,
It is the knell of my departed hours: Where are they?
With the years beyond the flood.
It is the signal that demands despatch:
How much is to be done? My hopes and fears
Start up alarm’d, and o’er life’s narrow verge
Look down—on what? a fathomless abyss;
A dread eternity! how surely mine!
And can eternity belong to me,
Poor pensioner on the bounties of an hour?
How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
How complicate, how wonderful, is man!
How passing wonder He who made him such!
Who centred in our make such strange extremes!
From different natures marvellously mix’d,
Connexion exquisite of distant worlds!
Distinguish’d link in being’s endless chain!
Midway from nothing to the Deity!"
From "Night Thoughts" by Edward Young.
Edward Young was a contemporary of Samuel Johnson so did not know the mixed blessing of electric lighting! George Gilfillan, his editor of 1853, described,'his lonely lamp shining at midnight, like a star, through the darkness, and seeming to answer the far signal of those mightier luminaries which are burning above in the Great Bear and Orion.' Surely he had a few sleepless nights. We can turn to Saint Paul for further comment.
5 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-10)
There are times when life could change dramatically, or even come to an end. One such was when I had brain surgery, a job that took twice as long as it should have done. I eventually woke from the operation with Mrs Turnstone beside the bed, glad to see my eyes opening, and I was happy to be called back to spend more years beside her. I cannot claim any memory of the dreams I enjoyed or endured during those four hours, but here’s Emily Dickinson!
Called BackbyEmily Dickinson
Just lost when I was saved!
Just felt the world go by!
Just girt me for the onset with eternity,
When breath blew back,
And on the other side
I heard recede the disappointed tide!
Therefore, as one returned, I feel,
Odd secrets of the line to tell!
Some sailor, skirting foreign shores,
Some pale reporter from the awful doors
Before the seal!
Next time, to stay!
Next time, the things to see
By ear unheard,
Unscrutinised by eye.
Next time, to tarry,
While the ages steal, —
Slow tramp the centuries,
And the cycles wheel.
Here is a recent sermon by Rev Jo Richards of Canterbury, from the texts: Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16. Luke 12:32-40. It makes for another reflection on life, death and what faith means.
The Train has come and I’m on my way,
I didn’t need a ticketAnd there was nothing to pay.
My lass will be waiting, on that I am sureWhat a wonderful meetingWith a future that will endure.
On Thursday I took a funeral of a local man; Bill and he wrote poems; he asked that The Last Poem, be read at his funeral, which was read in full just before the commendation: I have read to you with the family’s permission the opening verses.
I knew Bill, and in his writing, there is such a sense of moving from this mortal life to the next, that is eternal life. For Bill was assured of things hoped, for the conviction of things not seen. Bill had a deep Christian faith
Bill had a sense of the hope, of knowing that one day the train would stop, he would get on board and continue his onward journey to eternal life.
Abraham was also a man of deep faith and also on a journey. Here we have someone in his mid-seventies, who heard a call from God to up sticks with his barren wife Sarah and leave home. Obedient to God’s call they became nomads, setting off from Harran, which is in modern day Iraq, travelling through Syria, down to Egypt, and then up to the land of Canaan, which is in the present-day West Bank, in Palestine.
During this time, directed by God, Abraham gazes at the night sky trying in vain to imagine his descendants as numerous as the stars, whilst Sarah, his wife remains heartbreakingly barren.
I wonder what Abraham and Sarah must have been thinking; surely they must have had doubts along the way, of perhaps being cross with God, who has taken them out of what has been familiar and comfortable and sent them on this journey into the unknown, and then telling them they will have children, but despite this they had faith in what God said and set off and set off.
I want us to think for a moment what does our faith mean to us? Would we have done what Abraham and Sarah did?
Perhaps like Bill and Abraham we are on a journey of faith; assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen; but that is not always easy to describe when asked what your faith means to you.
Some might describe their faith in terms of creeds and as we do when we recite the creed; From a doctrinal or theological perspective. At baptism either the godparents or those who speak for themselves are asked about their faith and what they believe.
How do you describe your faith?
Faith is perhaps turning our heads and looking at the stars that sense of awe and wonder, that sense that there is something far greater than what we can see, feel or hear, yet we are still loved and cherished by God our creator.
Faith is perhaps that sense of knowing deep within ourselves knowing that we are not alone, that there is a greater presence of which we get glimpses of from time to time;
Faith is perhaps that longing for the eternal home – that place of peace, love and joy where there are no more suffering or tears. That place we call heaven, eternal life. That feeling of longing, and desire; for Abraham and Sarah their faith took them on a perilous journey, to take them where God was leading, not that they knew where they were going or how they would get there.
Faith is not a destination, more like a journey, and we often say we are all on a journey of faith, with each of us on a different point of that journey; some are just setting out whilst others more established but we can all sometimes be thrown off course, just as Peter was when he was walking on water. He took his eyes off Jesus and sank in the sea, but Jesus put his arm out and caught him.
But I am sure like Peter and doubting Thomas, our faith may have wobbled, and we may have had doubts. Thomas was with Jesus for three years and yet he doubted that he had been raised from the dead, which perhaps gives us permission to question or even doubt at times.
And perhaps when we do question or doubt then something might happen that reaffirms our faith; just this week I heard of how someone had their faith restored by an act of kindness; it is often the little things that we do or say that can have such a big impact on others. Time and time again we hear of people saying I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my faith.
Perhaps the opposite of faith is not doubt, but apathy – of not being alert and awake, as our Gospel suggests, of staying put and not willing to journey forth; Faith in a way is a response to an invitation to a journey of adventure; it’s not blind faith. We nurture our faith through worship, scripture, talking to other people, praying and for those small what I call God moments – moments when we sense God’s promptings and act on them.
Twice in this week’s readings we hear the words do not be afraid, by nurturing our faith it gives us the strength to face things that may frighten us or make us anxious. We can draw on these moments of remembering that God is with us in the everyday stuff as well as the ups and downs of life. As did the servants in our gospel reading, who were faithful doing the everyday mundane things, and ended up as the master’s guests at the great celebration.
Faith is perhaps a knowledge of God and a deep rooted heart felt desire to want to know God better – to find out what God is doing and join in, just as Bill did, Abraham and Sarah did, and the master’s slaves did.
So, we venture forward on our journey of faith may we give thanks for what we have already experienced of God’s love for us and what is still to come…and give thanks for the gift of faith, as we reflect upon what our faith means to us.
On this day in 1868 the Irish poet William Allingham was visiting Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Isle of Wight.
Luncheon. Then T and I walk into croquet ground, talking of Christianity.
‘What I want’, he said, ‘is an assurance of immortality.’
For my part I believe in God: can say no more.
A butterfly is seen as a symbol of the transition from earthy to eternal life. What would provide the poets with assurance of immortality? How would they recognise it? Is faith the basis of Allingham’s ‘I believe in God: can say no more’?
Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey has been getting to grips with the Gospel of Saint Mark, and that old question, what must I do to inherit eternal life? You’ll find the next few days’ readings well worth spending time with; thank you Sister!
Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery You shall not steal; You shall not give false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these since my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and he was filled with love for him, and he said, ‘You need to do one thing more. Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth (Mark 10:17-22, translation: New Jerusalem Bible).
Some biblical passages are particularly fertile ground, and for me, the story of the rich young man is one of them.* I find it a haunting tale; it is hard to let go of it; it is always in my mind, always pulling me back to itself. So I want to give in to the pull and return to this story now.
All the synoptic gospels tell the story of the rich young man (see Luke 18:18-23; Matthew 10:16-22; Mark 10:17-22). The reflections for this post will come from my reading of Mark’s account because Mark has some important details that don’t appear in the other accounts. And I’m grateful that Mark’s memory seized on these differences and wouldn’t let them go; his account of the rich young man’s meeting with Jesus has changed the way I view him. Previously, I had found myself reacting strongly against ‘that rich boy,’ as I tended to call him: I wanted to tell him off! Because of Mark, everything’s changed.
So, what does Mark’s story have that is so important? I want to start with something he says at the end of his account; he tells us that Jesus looks at the young man with love (Mk 10: 21). Neither Matthew nor Luke mention this; only Mark. Mark clearly wants us to notice this and so I follow his lead and allow those words to affect me deeply. In fact, I cannot go on; I stop reading. Everything slows down as I allow his phrase to settle in my soul. I try to imagine Jesus’ gaze of love; I become aware that I intensely want Jesus to look at me with love. How wonderful to receive that look–the softening warmth of the eyes, the gentle smile, the lingering gaze, the moments of silence. What has the young man done or said, I want to know, that awakens Jesus’ love? Can the rich young man teach me something about what Jesus is looking for? Can he teach you? Let’s allow these questions to work on us until tomorrow when we will continue our meditation.
* I have written about the story of the rich young man before in these posts (see 7 and 8 December 2020).
We at Agnellus Mirror do not claim to agree totally with everything we publish, but we hope that somebody out there finds it interesting. We questioned, no, disagreed with Tagore at the beginning of the month, and today we find him interesting but writing from a privileged point of view. Perhaps we should, each of us, stand outside the current of time, occasionally. But who stands beside us and shares our inner world? We offer a response to Tagore at the end of the post. What are your feelings?
SHELIDAH, 24th June 1894.
I have been only four days here, but, having lost count of the hours, it seems such a long while, I feel that if I were to return to Calcutta to-day I should find much of it changed—as if I alone had been standing still outside the current of time, unconscious of the gradually changing position of the rest of the world. The fact is that here, away from Calcutta, I live in my own inner world, where the clocks do not keep ordinary time; where duration is measured only by the intensity of the feelings; where, as the outside world does not count the minutes, moments change into hours and hours into moments. So it seems to me that the subdivisions of time and space are only mental illusions. Every atom is immeasurable and every moment infinite.
There is a Persian story which I was greatly taken with when I read it as a boy—I think I understood, even then, something of the underlying idea, though I was a mere child. To show the illusory character of time, a faquir put some magic water into a tub and asked the King to take a dip. The King no sooner dipped his head in than he found himself in a strange country by the sea, where he spent a good long time going through a variety of happenings and doings. He married, had children, his wife and children died, he lost all his wealth, and as he writhed under his sufferings he suddenly found himself back in the room, surrounded by his courtiers. On his proceeding to revile the faquir for his misfortunes, they said: “But, Sire, you have only just dipped your head in, and raised it out of the water!”
The whole of our life with its pleasures and pains is in the same way enclosed in one moment of time. However long or intense we may feel it to be while it lasts, as soon as we have finished our dip in the tub of the world, we shall find how like a slight, momentary dream the whole thing has been.
Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore
We are not simply writhing under our sufferings in this life, dipping into the rub of the world. Eighty years of life are indeed as nothing compared to the light years of the Universe’s existence, but they are years of responsibility to each other, to creation, and to the Creator.
Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.
Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee?
And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.
Yesterday we advocated butterfly’s days: no set agenda, no targets, no business, no busy-ness. Today we open the Book of Common Prayer to read a collect that is complementary to Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘The Butterfly’s Day’. It makes explicit that we are passing through this life, and need God’s guidance and rule to survive passing through things temporal, but we can keep a hold on things eternal with Our Father’s mercy.
Our picture from Saint David’s Cathedral invites us to be still – Emily might say ‘idle’. And knowing that Our Father is God will follow; we will be given a hold on things eternal
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
You can be awestruck by seeing the galaxies, infinite space. You can be awestruck, infinitely delighted, by a newly hatched damselfly. This one I only saw because I was on my knees, preparing to pull up stinging nettles to protect my workmates; how much do we miss day by day?
The Office begins with words from Psalm 51: Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall declare thy praise, but we could equally pray that all our senses be opened to perceive and declare the infinite love of God
From Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations.
The Infinity of God is our enjoyment,
because it is the region and extent of His dominion.
Barely as it comprehends infinite space, it is infinitely delightful;
because it is the room and the place of our treasures,
the repository of joys,
and the dwelling place,
yea the seat and throne, and Kingdom of our souls.
Till we know the universal beauty of God’s Kingdom,
and that all objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul,
to enquire into the sufficiency and extent of its powers is impertinent.
But when we know this,
nothing is more expedient than to consider whether a soul be able to enjoy them.
Which if it be, its powers must extend as far as its objects.
For no object without the sphere of its power,
can be enjoyed by it.
It cannot be so much as perceived, much less enjoyed.
'All objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul': that is a policy statement for Christian life on earth. Omnipresence is God's presence; Traherne once again comes close to Saint Francis here. I read him this way: nothing outside the range of the soul can be enjoyed by the soul, indeed if it is outside the range of the soul, then the soul will be unaware of it.
But if we reflect, or meditate, as Traherne encouraged us yesterday, we will become aware of more and more connections in creation, and aware that our part in Creation is both infinitesimal and infinite, insignificant and important, passing and eternal.
To be acquainted with celestial things
is not only to know them,
but by frequent meditation to be familiar with them.
The effects of which are admirable.
For by this those things that at first seemed uncertain become evident,
those things which seemed remote become near,
those things which appeared like shady clouds become solid realities:
finally, those things which seemed impertinent to us and of little concernment,
appear to be our own, according to the strictest rules of propriety
and of infinite moment.
I felt like adding, ‘Come Holy Spirit’, to this meditation by Thomas Traherne. He seems to be writing about the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These are given to us at Baptism and Confirmation, and reinforced by frequent meditation – or as we at Agnellus’ Mirror would say, frequent reflection.
‘Impertinent’ here seems not to mean ‘cheeky’ but ‘irrelevant’; ‘little concernment’ is more like ‘nothing to do with me’. But the things and people that seem that way are connected to us; they are our brothers and sisters as Saint Francis would remind us. And of infinite moment – ‘moment’ meaning both ‘momentum’ and ‘importance’.