Tag Archives: friendship

21 March. Before the Cross VIII: an old postcard.

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To my eyes there is little to commend the art of this postcard which is over a century old, but while it may not be good art it screams out in pain. Each person in the ugly scene is tortured: Christ himself, the blood still wet on his body; the other crucified men, Jesus’ mother Mary and the beloved John, gallantly supporting her, and the prostrate Mary Magdalene.

Why has this card been preserved over all these years?

It was among the possessions of Doris, my wife’s grandmother, when she died. It had been bought in Poperinge, one of the few Belgian towns not occupied by the German army during the Great War, and sent to  Doris in Manchester. The second postcard shows a street in Poperinge with ‘the shop where I procured this card’ marked with an X. (The censor had blacked out the word Poperinge on the front of the card, but the fading ink has rendered it legible.)

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Who was it that procured these cards? The boyfriend whom Doris was never to marry because he was killed in battle. There are a few of his Valentines and greetings cards preserved with them.

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The crucifixion card was printed in Munich, a German city, yet he could set that fact aside and still see something in the picture that spoke to his situation, surrounded by death, knowing his own death could strike at any moment. He might well have heard the echo of these Good Friday words as he looked at the card and sent it to Doris.

He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:2-5

Poperinge was well known for ‘Toc H’ or Talbot House, a club founded for troops on leave by the Anglican chaplain, Rev’d Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton. It can still be visited to this day; a century ago it was a lifeline for battle weary men.

MMB

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March 13. Jesus and Zacchaeus VII: The Beloved Friend

 

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.

Yesterday, we began to ponder these remarkable words of Jesus. Today, we can continue to turn these words over in our minds – as Zacchaeus must have done late that night when everyone else had fallen asleep. How healing Jesus’ words are.

There is no hesitation on Jesus’ part in accepting Zacchaeus’s promise. No cynical words, such as, “Ha. We’ll see how long this lasts. You’ve been a liar and a thief most of your life and now you expect us to believe that you will keep these promises?” Not a word was spoken to that effect. Such remarks would have immediately condemned Zacchaeus to failure, imprisoned him in his past. But that is emphatically not the way Jesus treats anyone: certainly not Zacchaeus, and not us. Instead, Jesus reinforces Zacchaeus’s good resolution by believing in it and in him. How creative and life-giving Jesus’ belief in Zacchaeus is for him.

Jesus also regards Zacchaeus’s promise as sufficient. There is no lecture from Jesus along the lines of, “Right, my good man. Is that all you mean to do? Repaying those you ruined four times the amount you stole is not as generous as it sounds! Those people need at least that much in order to start all over again. And as for giving half your property to the poor, you will barely even feel the loss, you have so much property as it is.” Jesus does not say anything of the sort here, nor does he ever do so. Jesus is friendship, love and forgiveness. So great is his mercy and love that he immediately accepts our good resolutions wholeheartedly and envisions them not as unfulfilled promises but as actual achievements, meriting praise. Today salvation has come to this house, he says. It has already happened. This is what friendship with Jesus means.

Jesus’ friendship gives us the grace of a conversion that almost seems to reach back in time and not merely forward. Jesus can give us a new heart, and new inner desires for goodness, along with the determination to act on these desires – as we see in Zacchaeus’s resolutions. Jesus’ forgiveness is one with his friendship, which means we enter into a continuous inner relationship with him who is goodness. He can therefore fill our present with potential for good – because we are with him. This can enable us to fulfil our potential for goodness by drawing on an inner store of grace and wisdom, which have their source in Jesus.

Zacchaeus had been an unhappy, wounded, even tragic person. He had managed to surround himself with the comforts of wealth, but he did so to the detriment of his emotional life and his need for human relationships. Jesus, simply by being Jesus, swept away the tragedy like fallen leaves in the autumn; Jesus awakened Zacchaeus both to his own human longings and to his deepest human potential. In awakening these longings, Jesus also immediately offered himself as the fulfillment of Zacchaeus’s longings, and as the power behind all his potential. This shows us what we may hope for from Jesus, our beloved Friend.

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Perhaps we are tentatively groping toward something, and we do not know what it is. Maybe we are metaphorically on that tree branch, just watching, as Zacchaeus was. Maybe we see Jesus turning to us. Maybe we are very clear only about one thing: that we are lost. Zacchaeus’s story tells us that we can be confident that Jesus will befriend us, too, and offer us as much healing forgiveness, with as much joy as he gave to Zacchaeus. He will also ask something of us: to allow him, and his dearest companions, into our home. Today.

SJC

 

 

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12 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus VI: Healing Friendship Offered to All

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But wait, what’s going on? There is some restlessness in the crowd now. The people seem dismayed. The ones nearest Jesus’ group have sent the perplexing message around: Jesus has gone to stay at a sinner’s house! How shocking! It can’t be true! Now the crowd is straining to see what is happening. Zacchaeus is too short to be seen clearly, but it’s clear enough that Jesus is smiling, and some of his closest companions are looking happy. One is even wiping his eyes. They see them preparing to leave together, and yes, they see that Zacchaeus is the centre of attention. Naturally. But look – yes, Zacchaeus is actually being embraced by some of Jesus’ friends. They seem to be speaking to Zacchaeus with expressions of relief and gratitude. Relief? Gratitude?? Because of Zacchaeus?? And Jesus and his friends are all heading in the direction of Zacchaeus’s house. The atmosphere in the crowd quickly becomes more hostile, and angry people are beginning to surround Jesus and his newly enlarged group. They don’t understand. That villainous chief tax collector, whom they all despised and had relegated to the outermost edges of their lives, is suddenly in the inner circle of this holy man’s friends. What is this?

But now, Zacchaeus is ready. He hears the bewildered comments and knows that it is up to him to do something, to act, to explain. Jesus is now his friend, and he is Jesus’ friend, and Zacchaeus has already decided on the changes he will make in his life. He declares his promise to Jesus with conviction – and it feels so wonderful, so free to declaim the words, Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ The bystanders have fallen silent.

Zacchaeus pauses, panting a bit. He knows Jesus understands the full import of his declaration: it means that now I am a new man. I have a new identity; I am the friend of Jesus, because Jesus has befriended me. Jesus did this completely out of the blue, not as a reward for any good deeds of mine for I had no good deeds. He offered his friendship because he is friendship, he is love. Jesus saw through my facade, my fake bravado, saw beyond the unscrupulous tax collector, the cheat, the bully – he saw through all that, he saw the hurt, frightened child. And now he sees my human potential and his friendship has healed me. Jesus confirms this in his words:

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

These words of Jesus are directed to Zacchaeus, primarily, but they are also words for the angry bystanders. They, too, need healing from their wound of self-righteousness, from their various facades of self-sufficiency and bravado. Jesus is here re-teaching the crowd the message that he repeats so often during his minstry: he has not come for those who suppose themselves to be righteous, capable and therefore deserving of God’s blessings. He has come for the lost, the rejected; he has come for the wounded – physically and emotionally. That refers to Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus knows it. That also refers to the crowd standing around Jesus in Jericho – and they are a bit slower to grasp the point.

If we are honest, we know that this refers to us, also. We need to be needed by Jesus. And we are. Jesus longs to be in a relationship of deepest friendship with us. His relationship with Zacchaeus can give hope to all who realize that they are precisely in Zacchaeus’s position.

SJC

(MAfr African Pilgrimage, St Maurice)

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10 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus IV: The Call.

 

r&M.Arch

Zacchaeus would have watched as Jesus walks on, interacting warmly with the crowd. A blessing for this one, a prayer offered gravely with that one, a beaming smile to another, a lingering look of support directed into the eyes of a disabled person and his carer, a listening ear, a wise word; he clasps the hands of the elderly as he goes along; he lays his hands on the heads of the lame and the sick; he embraces a small child who runs up to him and laughs at the trenchant observation the child makes. This was a happy day for Jesus and his followers. Nothing untoward had happened in it – no impossible confrontations with scribes or Pharisees. Everyone in the crowd felt Jesus’ peace and his power. His deep goodness was palpable. No one was unaffected by it. Everyone felt a new surge of hope and life. They felt that their lives would change now for the better. They felt that they themselves were changing. Jesus’ holiness shone out. People simply loved him.

Suddenly, Matthew taps Jesus’ shoulder and points to the sycamore tree, “There’s Zacchaeus,” he may have said. And what of Zacchaeus? He is deeply stirred, in a way that he did not expect. He recognises power when he sees it, but he has never seen this kind of power before. It has none of the usual trappings. There is no display of wealth. There is no intimidating weaponry. There is no attitude of disdain and arrogance. This power of Jesus was like an irresistible dance, drawing even the clumsy to share in its exciting rhythms. The entire scene was characterised by complete freedom and joy.

Zacchaeus recognised some of the people in Jesus’ group. Matthew was there! As one of them. He seemed to belong! That blind beggar was there, his sight restored, telling everyone about what Jesus had done, as if they couldn’t see well enough for themselves. A few of the loose women of the town were right there among Jesus’ group, and some obviously respectable matrons were walking with them, smiling and talking easily to them! Some of the men Zacchaeus had all but ruined were there, looking more hopeful than they had in years. What was going on here? Zacchaeus was mesmerised, stunned. He stood on his thick tree branch, supporting himself with other branches. Friendless Zacchaeus. He was smiling as he watched, but he also felt a peculiar sensation he had not known is years: he has a lump in his throat. Usually he kept such feelings far away from his awareness. But today, longing surfaced with an intensity he had not experienced since he was a small boy. He watches Jesus and his group coming slowly down the street, sees the flow of good feeling and happiness. He thinks momentarily of his large home, filled with servants, and decorated with expensive objects, but hollow, too quiet, lonely. Suddenly, he wants desperately to be part of Jesus’ group.

Much to Zacchaeus’s surprise, he sees Jesus look around, then up to the tree; he makes eye-contact with Zacchaeus, and then, smiling, Jesus makes his way through the crowd – which, incidentally, parts to allow him through – and he stands at the bottom of Zacchaeus’s tree. I love to imagine this scene: can Jesus possibly have been in solemn mode here? This is not the Sermon on the Mount, nor is it an occasion when he must undertake a battle of wits with Pharisees who are trying to catch him out. This is Jesus the Friend and Brother, joyfully, even laughingly, calling up to Zacchaeus – who, in fact, looks a bit silly where he is. Jesus is enjoying this moment. He is giving himself fully. His strong voice rings out, “Zacchaeus!”

Let’s stop here, with the sound of Jesus’ voice, perhaps calling not Zacchaeus’s name, but our own.

SJC

Helping him down. MMB

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9 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus III: Personal History

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We all have a history, including Zacchaeus. We do not know what his history was, but it is probable that this friendless man had an unhappy one. Why choose a profession that guarantees the hatred of one’s fellow-man otherwise? Perhaps he was tossed out of the home at a young age by an abusive parent, or perhaps he ran away from a situation of poverty and violence, had to fend for himself, become street-wise, learn to manipulate situations to his advantage. Whatever happened, he became, for reasons we will never know, a rich man, but also a dishonest man in a despised profession. No doubt he was intelligent and competent – too competent, maybe, at getting money – but wealth and the power to ruin people does not attract friends. Sycophants, maybe, but not friends. And not even these were with him that day. He was alone, unsupported. No wife, no servant. No colleague. No one.

Let’s fill in some other details about this man. Working backwards from what the text tells us, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Zacchaeus as a wiry little boy, able to run fast and scale obstacles easily as he escaped from the angry adults who wanted to thrash him for some misdemeanour – or none. I think he knew what hunger meant as a child, and although he survived by his wits, perhaps his nutrition was dubious, and bodily growth was affected. Now he is a well-to-do adult, but Zacchaeus is a small man. He is abundantly energetic, though, and is both crafty and agile enough to solve his current difficulty without reference to anyone else (it is the story of his life): he cannot see Jesus because he is too short and the crowd is too big and unyielding. Fine. He dashes ahead and swings easily into a sycamore tree, as the text tells us – a tree well furnished with thick branches radiating from a central crown. Here is a resourceful person with few inhibitions. Here is someone determined never to allow his desires to be thwarted. Here is a man who has never cared what people thought of him as he ruthlessly made his fortune – why start now? He climbs higher on the sturdy branches. Yes, excellent view, he thinks smugly. He can see Jesus perfectly now.

And what is happening with Jesus? What is Zacchaeus apt to be seeing? St Luke tells us in the immediately preceding passage that Jesus, on entering Jericho, had healed a blind man, and that ‘all who saw it gave praise to God.’ The formerly blind man then followed Jesus, we are told. He was probably now part of Jesus’ joyful entourage walking down the main road of Jericho. I expect this group might have included many of the people who had known the blind man all his life and had now witnessed his healing. They would have joined Jesus’ group, already consisting of the Twelve, without whom he rarely went anywhere. The gospels also report that there were women among Jesus’ constant supporters and followers, and I image that some of them would have been there now, too. Chances are, the collection of people coming down the road with Jesus was a large one.

As we have seen in our gospel passage, Jesus already seems to know Zacchaeus’ name when he starts the conversation with him. No one introduces them. We do not need to assume that this is a demonstration of Jesus’ divine omniscience. Zacchaeus was infamous. The apostle Matthew, reformed tax collector himself, probably knew him, even if Jesus didn’t. He would probably have warned Jesus about Zacchaeus as he approached the town: “Rich man, but the very devil for getting tax money from people – and then some. Ruthless,” Jesus might have been told. He was probably also told that Zacchaeus lived a big house. I can see Jesus listening quietly to such information, and forming his own plans. Jesus had nothing to fear from notorious individuals.

SJC

Favella image from CD.

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13 February: The love of those whom we do not know.

I think we need an antidote to Virginia Woolf’s desperate feelings of superiority to others. We are put on this earth to love God and our neighbour, that is what being human is all about, whether or not we abide by the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures. GKC did both. Here he writes about the young Robert Browning, but also ‘almost everyone’.

“Love of humanity is the commonest and most natural of the feelings of a fresh nature, and almost every one has felt it alight capriciously upon him when looking at a crowded park or a room full of dancers. The love of those whom we do not know is quite as eternal a sentiment as the love of those whom we do know. In our friends the richness of life is proved to us by what we have gained; in the faces in the street the richness of life is proved to us by the hint of what we have lost. And this feeling for strange faces and strange lives, when it is felt keenly by a young man, almost always expresses itself in a desire after a kind of vagabond beneficence, a desire to go through the world scattering goodness like a capricious god.”

(From “Robert Browning” by G. K. Chesterton,  via Kindle)

Photos: Amsterdam, MMB; L’Arche India; St Maurice Pilgrimage; Brocagh School, Co Leitrim 1967.

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27 January: My unwary sentences: Brownings II.

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Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, masters of words both, still contrived to misunderstand each other in the early days of their friendship. It was a friendship largely based on letters since Robert could not risk arousing Mr Barrett’s suspicions as to his motives for visiting Elizabeth if he did so more than once a week. The penny post had been inaugurated five years before, and there were several deliveries per day, so misunderstandings could be sorted out quickly. A lesson for us, with our smart phones, Skype, Whatsapp and so on:
Never let the sun go down on your anger, don’t let resentment set up shop in your heart! (see Ephesians 4:26)
“Do you receive my assurances from the deepest of my heart that I never did otherwise than ‘believe’ you … never did nor shall do … and that you completely misinterpreted my words if you drew another meaning from them. Believe me in this—will you? I could not believe you any more for anything you could say, now or hereafter—and so do not avenge yourself on my unwary sentences by remembering them against me for evil. I did not mean to vex you … still less to suspect you—indeed I did not! and moreover it was quite your fault that I did not blot it out after it was written, whatever the meaning was. So you forgive me (altogether) for your own sins: you must.
For my part, though I have been sorry since to have written you such a gloomy letter, the sorrow unmakes itself in hearing you speak so kindly. Your sympathy is precious to me, I may say. May God bless you.
Write and tell me among the ‘indifferent things’ something not indifferent, how you are yourself, I mean … for I fear you are not well and thought you were not looking so yesterday.
Dearest friend, I remain yours, E.B.B.”
An old Dutch pillar box at Amsterdam Centraal Station. MMB.

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15 January: We do celebrations very well.

 

A few days ago David wrote of L’Arche: ‘As a Community we do celebrations very well, and for me, being involved gives me a sense of belonging which deepens my passion for L’Arche.’ And I began to consider the celebrations that have taken place lately. 

The Annual Advent Celebration brings hundreds of friends and family to share our preparations for Christmas in songs and sketches, sales and refreshments. The Christmas market in Saint Peter’s church was as much a celebration as a day of work. There were Christmas parties for the different work activities groups, for the half-barrels gardening club, and of course in the houses. Some of us squeezed into the Cathedral carol service.

And before that … birthdays, community gatherings, the Harvest Festival, the funerals of Emma and Denise … and that’s not all, not by any means.

Any occasion can be celebrated. My wife recalls her first arrival in the community and finding on her bed a card welcoming her by name. My first weekend was marked by the teeth incident. A core member had been sick and had flushed her teeth away down the toilet with everything else. Every manhole and inspection cover was lifted, every toilet flushed. I was poised by the last one before the cesspit, with Leo, a crazy Canadian, singing ‘Teeth are flowing like a river, flowing out to you and me-e-e.’ We didn’t catch the teeth, (and nor did anyone else) but I caught the L’Arche sense of belonging that David mentions. It has never left me.

The last-mentioned celebration was not about teeth or sewage, but about the joys of being alive among sisters and brothers on a Spring morning. I hope I can continue to bring this sense of celebration to all areas of my life, and invite all readers to do likewise! Here is a morning offering that a Christian or a non-Christian could use to start the day:

‘Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful! 

W.H.Davies.

Celebration of the half-barrels group; our decoration for the Harvest Festival at St Mildred’s, Canterbury.

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January 13: Christ’s interest.

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Mrs Turnstone delights in the fact that on this day, the light of the Sun is first seen in Greenland, the first sign of Spring in the North. When Hopkins lived in North Wales there were no street lights, and anyone moving after nightfall needed a lantern. At least there was peace, and ‘who goes there?’ need not have been spoken in fear.

I am blest that she who goes there is indeed rare, and that ‘Christ minds’ her and me and you, dear reader.

The Lantern Out of Doors by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: , what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

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January 5: Some Gifts of Community Life.

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A LETTER FROM DAVID BEX, COMMUNITY LEADER, L’ARCHE KENT.

David came to L’Arche after belonging to an Emmaus Community. The gifts he received and developed there will be good for us and help us grow, but it is also good for us to be reminded of what our gifts and strengths are as a community. I can vouch for friendships that have lasted forty years and more! 

MMB.

The year 2018 is drawing to a close and it has been a year of change. We have had assistants go back to their home countries after a year with us, taking with them a piece of L’Arche Kent in their hearts and creating friendships that continue.

Sadly, we have had Core Members die this year, Emma and Denise.

We have seen long term assistants move on to a new chapter in their lives, which has meant that they have finished as employees but not as members of our Community.

When Core Members and assistants who have been our friends and companions change their roles or move away I sense and share a feeling of loss within the Community and a period of reflection about our relationships with them. There is a time to recognise what we have learnt from each other, the joy and laughter that we shared together.

As part of these times of reflection there comes a time when we are able to recognise that we need to prepare ourselves for welcoming new community members, new assistants and new core members. I feel these two celebrations, departing and arriving, are embraced by our Community and I see the effort and care that goes into them. As a Community we do celebrations very well, and for me, being involved gives me a sense of belonging which deepens my passion for L’Arche.

We may not always realise it but we do cope with change really well. We allow time for it to happen, we talk about it, we reflect upon it and we share our emotions about it. These traditions within L’Arche help us to be a Community, to be strong, to be able to care and have the confidence to show that we care. These traditions, these behaviours are often talked about in the world around us, but from what I see rarely practised in such a meaningful way as can be found in our Community and L’Arche as a whole.

Christmas is a time of change, a time of hope, a time when the deepest part of winter has been reached, when we look forward to brighter and lighter days. As a Community we have lots to look forward to, such as our newly arrived assistants and the ones to come, bringing with them the gifts of new relationships. I see our Community in the future having many opportunities to be a role model to those around us. We are a vibrant Community with lots of ideas, creativitydavid bex and kindness.

I see all of you playing a vital role in L’Arche Kent, in showing to the world around us what Community can look like. Thank you for what you do for each other and for the Community. Thank you for the acts of kindness and caring and being wonderful role models.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

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