Tag Archives: fear

19 October: Luke, a Nervous Evangelist, Part II

Second right in the bottom row: this could sum up the experience of the widow in Jesus’ parable that Sister Johanna is reflecting upon. ‘I’ve never felt so powerless in my life.’ Or further up: ‘I feel there is nothing to look forward to.’ It’s not something new to the Covid experience that makes people feel this way. 2,000 years ago, they must have said similar things to Jesus, and he put their experience into this parable, now opened anew for us by Sister Johanna.

We are looking at Jesus’ parable of the unjust judge, from Luke 18:1- 8. I recommend that you scroll back to yesterday’s post to catch up with us. We’re looking at an unusually playful parable, starring a curmudgeonly judge, and we’re wondering what Jesus is really getting at by presenting his ideas in this way. We find out by listening to the lines he allows the judge-curmudgeon to say, ‘… I have neither fear of God nor respect for any human person….’ This phrase comes twice in the short parable – the first time Jesus himself uses it to describe the judge, and the second time, he lets the judge say it to describe himself. Repetition is a device used to drive home a home truth. Jesus wants us to hear these words. What is the truth that they contain, then?

I think, first, the words tell us that Jesus understands what it is like for us to pray and not feel heard. He understands how, in our life with God, it sometimes feels as though God himself is the uncaring one, who delays and delays to help us, even though we ‘cry to him day and night.’ When we are going through such an experience, we feel alone, and it seems to us that no one in the history of the world has been through this kind of desolation except us. But in fact, Jesus knows that this is an archetypal experience. Jesus’ listeners at the time would have had it, we have it, all praying people in between us and them have had it. So we can nod our heads as Jesus’ first hearers must have done. Perhaps some in his audience will have begun to cry as Jesus’ words went home and exposed a deeply painful wound or a long-standing problem that felt overwhelming. Jesus is saying here, “I know. It sometimes feels like this when you pray to God for help. He seems unheeding. Here’s me, praying night and day, and nothing changes. Does God care?”

Second: Jesus in this parable is giving us permission to admit that we have these kinds of thoughts and feelings about God. Sometimes it is very difficult not to think of God as anything other than an extremely unjust judge. But why should Jesus encourage us to admit that we feel this way? Because faith is not about pretending to possess a level of ‘holiness’ that we do not really possess. We will return to the subject of faith at the end of our reflections tomorrow. For now, we can say that our faith in God is what allows us to tell God exactly how it feels to be me right now, and, as such, to tell him what we think of him. God knows this already, of course. But perhaps we don’t. Faith is sometimes about discovering who we are, as much as it is about discovering who God is. So, the Lord wants us to tell God all about it, with as much honesty as we can summon, while still hanging on to God for dear life.

The last nine words of the previous paragraph are vital. In light of them, let’s look at the character of the widow in this parable. What role does she play? A widow, in biblical shorthand, represents those who are neediest in society, those who have few human resources, who are alone and must fight hard in order even to be noticed by the current power-base. In this parable we find just such a fighter – a woman in whom the curmudgeonly judge meets his match. Feisty and determined, and as crabby and calculating in her way as he was, she “…kept on coming to him and saying, ‘I want justice from you against my enemy.’” Do I detect a hint of falsetto in Jesus’ rendering of these words? Maybe we all know the type of character the widow represents. Possibly, if we know her well, we are a bit afraid of her. But, don’t we admire her when some film or television drama features a character like this, who refuses to be the victim of whatever or whoever is trying to make her one?

We’re going to pause again here and return tomorrow to continue our meditation.

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17 September: Not a Word of Fear, Season of Creation XVIII.

Death stands above me, whispering low 
I know not what into my ear: 
Of his strange language all I know 
Is, there is not a word of fear.

By Walter Savage Landor, who died this day, 1864, in Florence.

Landor maintains his refusal to be cowed by the prospect of death. This stone is carved as a Celtic cross with the Jesus (IHS) monogram in the centre and the passion flower climbing to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and of humanity.

We are unlikely to be asked to die for the sake of our earth, more to live so as to let her flourish; there are many little steps we can take, in our diet, our use of electricity, our purchasing of more stuff than we need or can use. Many little steps do make a difference. If we choose to live with more respect and love for Mother Earth, we will discern what to do next.

Put that light out!

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19 June: Today this is my vocation VI: A missionary Life Coach

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José Maria Cantal Rivas is a Missionary of Africa working in Algeria. During a sabbatical year he took a qualification as a Life Coach and is putting it to good use among young people. It is not his task to preach with the immediate intention of ‘Christianising’ his students, but to be a witness to Christ’s empowering love among them. Fr José Maria sees his work as a form of inculturalisation – getting alongside the people he is sent to bring the Good News to. He tells about his experiences in the article from which this post is extracted; the link below is to the French language original. How can we be Christ for young people in our own community?

‘My “students” come to realise that very often it is they themselves who are the chief obstacles and brakes impeding their own happiness. They have mentally forbidden themselves the right to imagine that their daily life could be different.

‘Many people seem to think that happiness will arrive one day in the post, in just one delivery, and when the parcel is opened, they will find happiness, all “ready to wear”. Very few are aware that to be happy, like body building, needs time to be given up to it; needs perseverance and discipline, as well as clear priorities and passion. There’s no other way!

The course is given in French and Arabic. Wherever possible I try to use examples, videos, personalities, literature from their Arab-Muslim culture: firstly to avoid any suspicion of proselytism, but above all to confirm that what I propose is practicable and compatible with their culture.

A short presentation by the Algerian women’s Paralympic basketball team, even if the sound quality is poor, has more impact that an excellent video from a similar team from a northen country!

Africa in general is changing and it seems to me that it’s good to know how Africans themselves, with their rich culture, face up to changes such as the spectacular rise in the numbers of women at university and in the world of work; the influence of the internet, demographic changes, new forms of social organisation, spiritual longings divorced from religion, urbanisation and so on.’

Relais MAGHREB 35/ 2020 / P9-11 

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12 June: Crowding Round

MAfr photograph

The tax-collectors and sinners were all crowding round to listen to Jesus. This is what St Luke reports in 15:1. This line is worth lingering over. Sometimes only one sentence is enough to tell a story of its own. As I repeat these words slowly to myself, my imagination fixes on Jesus. He’s not talking to scribes and Pharisees for a change. Good – because he has such a hard time whenever he is dealing with the synagogue officials. They don’t want to hear what he has to say, they pretend interest but are always preparing a trap. Of course, they never get the better of Jesus. He seems to handle these encounters effortlessly and he is never wrong-footed by them. But I feel certain that these encounters were very painful for Jesus: discouraging, and exhausting.

So, by contrast, here is Jesus in the centre of a very different crowd – one that is sincerely interested. These were people one would not usually associate with religion, or with much else that was respectable, for they were the type of people that find themselves on the outside of respectability, looking in. They were the type that most cultures reject. They were labelled tax collectors and sinners by the culture of Jesus’ day. And Jesus loved to be with these people. On this occasion, as on every occasion when he sees his that his words are welcomed, he must have been deeply moved by their interest and love. These are the ones who allow him to reach their hearts – and he wants this ardently himself. He came into the world to reach all people, but reaching such cast-offs is a matter of urgency for him. These are the ones who have probably never been given a break in their lives. Tax-collectors were generally considered a dishonest bunch at that time, most of them reputed to abuse their position in order to grab a cut of whatever money they collected from people who were already poor to begin with. And so-called “sinners” were people who were thought to be involved in all sorts of iniquitous practices, whose entire life-style was considered morally dubious at best. I daresay that then as now, there were people relegated to this group who were essentially honest but had fallen on very hard times, people for whom earning a living had proved impossible, and for reasons beyond their control. But many will have been truly as dishonest and even criminal as they were thought to be, and all were deeply wounded people for one reason or another. This is a crowd of seeming failures – if you judge success by the sleek appearance of it. And this is something Jesus never did.

This is the bunch who “crowded around Jesus” – and not because they wanted a hand-out from him. He had walked into their lives and they were bowled over by him. They had never met anyone like him. Our text indicates that we are not dealing with just one or two from this sector of society. It says they were “all” crowding around Jesus. Luke is talking about a lot of people here. How did Jesus manage to reach them? Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have been there as an invisible observer to see how he looked at them, for example, to hear what he said, to note the words he chose, and to see these tough characters melt, and the deeply hurt ones lift up their heads. By his radiant and gentle personality, by his words that showed he understood everything that had ever hurt them, Jesus cracks open the hard shell of their hearts and eases them away from their distrust and fear of him. And there they were – crowding around Jesus, bumping each other, trying to get closer to him. They wanted to hear what he was saying, to “listen to him.” These aren’t usually the types to go in for sermons, but Jesus was different. Very different. His word was hope and forgiveness. Everything about him was a message of peace.

This is where I stopped reading and placed myself in that crowd. Is there anyone who has a completely clear conscience? If so, perhaps this isn’t the bible passage for you. But if you have anything you regret on your conscience, if you bear remorse like a constant and heavy load on your back, if shame is your daily companion join this crowd. That’s right, squeeze in there, between the bag lady and the guy with long, stringy hair hanging down his back. Look at Jesus. He is looking at you, he sees you join this group, he catches your eye for a moment and smiles a beautiful warm one right into your face. He’s talking. You are able to move in closer. Miraculously, the others make room for you and glance at you with understanding – they are catching something of Jesus’ own tenderness. What do you hear Jesus saying?


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12 May: The Lord is abroad.

Taken 3 miles, 5 km, from Hammersmith, one stormy night.

The late Mr. James Ralph told Lord Macartney, that Doctor Johnson passed an evening with Dr. Young at Lord Melcombe’s (then Mr. Dodington) at Hammersmith. The Doctor happening to go out into the garden, Mr. Dodington observed to him, on his return, that it was a dreadful night, as in truth it was, there being a violent storm of rain and wind.

‘No, Sir, (replied the Doctor) it is a very fine night. The LORD is abroad.’

Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784″ by James Boswell.

In Eastertide we consider the presence of the living Lord in our lives. But see how language changes! On this occasion the Doctor did not mean to suggest that the Lord was overseas, rather that he was out and about, ‘abroad’, even on a night of violent storm. At Hammersmith (West London) in the 1780s the night would have been many times darker than today, a violent storm more truly dread-full, but he felt God’s presence and seems to have enjoyed the storm. A very fine night indeed!

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16 January. Going Viral LXIII: Second (or is it third) lockdown in Canterbury.

St Peter’s keys on the weather vane of his church in Canterbury.

How St Mildred’s, St Dunstan’s and St Peter’s in Canterbury are facing the new restrictions. Some day we’ll be glad of the record!

Good morning to you all, and I do hope this finds you well in these difficult times. A lot has been going on behind the scenes – hence today.
Temporary closure of our church buildings

The PCC’s of both of our Parishes, and our ministry team, have agreed that we temporarily suspend corporate worship in our buildings  with immediate effect, and move onto on-line provision, live streaming our services from St Dunstan’s with a 10.00 Sunday Eucharist. This will be the pattern of worship until Sunday February 21st 2021, when the situation will be reviewed, and hopefully more of our folk will have been vaccinated, and the virus less prevalent.  

We are legally permitted to keep our church buildings open for corporate worship, if we feel it is wise and safe to do so. Bishop Rose has advised in a letter to clergy, that this is a may, and not a must. She reminds us that we have a duty of care for everyone particularly those who are vulnerable or who may be most at risk from this virus. 

With the demographics of our congregations being predominantly elderly and vulnerable (over 70),  the safest option for all, in this current climate, is to temporarily close our buildings for corporate worship; particularly in light of the CofE guidance that states, “The Government guidance on the safe use of places of worship makes clear that those attending a place of worship must not mingle with anyone outside their household or support bubble.”

The safety of our vulnerable congregations is absolutely paramount, and with this in mind, we are temporarily closing our buildings and moving our worship online, which folk can watch from the safety of their homes. I assure you that this has not been an easy decision  for myself and the PCC’s, but it is in the interests of keeping everyone safe, and we have hope. 

I appreciate that for some this will be a  huge disappointment; and for others you may feel comforted by this decision. Either way may you be reassured by The Bishop of London’s words – who chairs the Church of England Covid recovery group:  “There is hope. The vaccination programme is underway and, as Christians, we have a deeper hope in God that comforts us beyond fear itself. As we have been remembering this Christmas Season, even in the midst of our darkest fears, that hope brings light.”  
 

May I remind you that although buildings will be temporarily closed, the church is not shut – we are the Body of Christ, the church, and we can love and support one another with phone calls, and prayers, and keeping connected to one another. For those who are in touch with are offline folk, please can you let them know of this decision.


God Bless you all, and please do keep safe, keep connected and keep praying.
Jo
Rev Jo Richards Rector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury

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8 January: The Embankment at Night, Before the War.

A stormy London skyline today from Greenwich.

D H Lawrence meant before the Great War, 1914-18. When he is not trying to be over intellectual and convey abstract ideas in poetry, when he is being human, as here, he is a better poet. We can surely all sympathise with his mixed emotions, as Christina and I discussed a while back. The Embankment would be described as a dyke or levee elsewhere; busy roads and broad footpaths run along it, under trees. Let’s not forget those people it is hard to help this Christmas.

By the river
In the black wet night as the furtive rain slinks down,
Dropping and starting from sleep
Alone on a seat
A woman crouches.
 I must go back to her. I want to give her
Some money. Her hand slips out of the breast of  her gown
Asleep. My fingers creep
Carefully over the sweet
Thumb-mound, into the palm’s deep pouches.
 So, the gift! God, how she starts!
And looks at me, and looks in the palm of her hand!
And again at me!
I turn and run
Down the Embankment, run for my life.
 But why?—why? Because of my heart’s
Beating like sobs, I come to myself, and stand
In the street spilled over splendidly
With wet, flat lights. What I’ve done
I know not, my soul is in strife.
 The touch was on the quick. I want to forget.

” (from “New Poems” by D. H. (David Herbert) Lawrence 1885-1930)

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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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A lovely Christmas message

From Amsterdam.

Andrew is our daughter’s godfather, and he has kindly sent us this link to a Christmas message from Bishop Curry in the US, suggesting the title we’ve given it. Enjoy the short video and have a joyful Christmas wherever you may be.

Will.

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3 December: Preoccupied by good.

James Boswell published this letter from Samuel Johnson after the Doctor died. Both men had melancholy times; Johnson more severely than most.

“I never was so much pleased as now with your account of yourself; and sincerely hope, that between publick business, improving studies, and domestick pleasures, neither melancholy nor caprice will find any place for entrance. Whatever philosophy may determine of material nature, it is certainly true of intellectual nature, that it abhors a vacuum: our minds cannot be empty; and evil will break in upon them, if they are not pre-occupied by good.

My dear Sir, mind your studies, mind your business, make your lady happy, and be a good Christian. After this, ‘tristitiam et metus Trades protervis in mare Creticum Portare ventis.’*

‘If we perform our duty, we shall be safe and steady.

Life of Johnson by James Boswell.

Jesus put it this way:

And when an unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith: I will return into my house from whence I came out. And coming he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then he goeth, and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is made worse than the first. So shall it be also to this wicked generation.

Luke 12: 43-45.

Be preoccupied by good’ sounds like a good Advent motto to me! Spelt out for Boswell quite clearly: mind your studies, mind your business, make your lady happy, and be a good Christian.


*While in the Muse’s friendship blest,
Nor fear, nor grief, shall break my rest;
Bear them, ye vagrant winds, away,
And drown them in the Cretan Sea.’
Horace, Odes, i. 26. I.

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