Tag Archives: friendship

After all the shouting

 

samaritans' poster cbw

A man recently took his life after appearing on a British ‘reality’ tv show where a lie detector allegedly ‘proved’ that he was unfaithful to his partner.

Thank God for the Samaritans, including my friend L, who listen in ways beyond the capabilities of such shows. They know, far better than the distressed caller ever can, how much their death will affect others. Here’s another reminder of how to contact them, a poster that greets the traveller at Canterbury West station in Kent.

Talk to us if things are getting to you, 116123.

And if someone desperate talks to you, take courage, and listen.

WT

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May 4: The Signpost

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THE SIGN-POST by Edward Thomas
THE dim sea glints chill. The white sun is shy.
And the skeleton weeds and the never-dry,
Rough, long grasses keep white with frost
At the hilltop by the finger-post;
The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed
Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft.
I read the sign. Which way shall I go?
A voice says: You would not have doubted so
At twenty. Another voice gentle with scorn
Says: At twenty you wished you had never been born.
One hazel lost a leaf of gold
From a tuft at the tip, when the first voice told
The other he wished to know what ‘twould be
To be sixty by this same post. “You shall see,”
He laughed—and I had to join his laughter—
“You shall see; but either before or after,
Whatever happens, it must befall,
A mouthful of earth to remedy all
Regrets and wishes shall freely be given;
And if there be a flaw in that heaven
‘Twill be freedom to wish, and your wish may be
To be here or anywhere talking to me,
No matter what the weather, on earth,
At any age between death and birth,—
To see what day or night can be,
The sun and the frost, the land and the sea,
Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring,—
With a poor man of any sort, down to a king,
Standing upright out in the air
Wondering where he shall journey, O where?
Edward Thomas was another who suffered from depression – At twenty you wished you had never been born. He would walk it off for hours.
Here he has been walking, walking, facing the mouthful of earth that awaits him in death, but now acknowledges the wish to be anywhere talking to … maybe his wife Helen? ‘And with a poor man of any sort, down to a king.’ Whatever Thomas meant by that, the words ‘down to a king’ put me in mind of Philippians which we touched on yesterday. Continuing chapter 2:6-8:
Christ Jesus who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the  form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.
And then there is the story of the walkers to Emmaus being overtaken by one they should have recognised. (Luke  24:13-35) He is there at the crossroads, knowing all too well how each of us has our own cross to bring to the hilltop. And death shall be freely given – Sister Death as Francis put it. Not to be snatched before time! Had Thomas killed himself at twenty, we would have been the poorer without his word painting: The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft. 
Sometimes it is good to stop, stand upright and look around us, even at a falling leaf. After all, Christ himself told us to consider the lilies of the field. And then walk on in his company.

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1 May: The happy commuter

steamtrainNI

The feast of Saint Joseph the Worker seems a good time to share this story. Joseph, I guess, had his workshop in the house or close by. Not so for many in the world today. And how many of us are less than happy with our work, and with getting there and back? Can we improve things for our colleagues by our attitude towards them?

It’s Wednesday evening and I’m at Canterbury West station, chatting to a railwaywoman while I await my chance to slip onto the platform. Hundreds of people were streaming away from an incoming train.

‘You’d think if they were going home they’d look happy!’ she said, and truly, they did not. ‘I’ll get one smiling’, I said, as I saw M coming into view. To be fair, I’d seen him smiling already. I know he likes his job, and I knew he was not going home for long; he was due to attend the SVP meeting (Saint Vincent de Paul Society) about an hour later on that cold windy night. But he smiled and chatted and went on his way.

‘Now you can start working in the other 451!’ said the railwaywoman. (With a smile.)

So maybe I’ll share one of the staff’s efforts to raise a smile at Christmas with this little plum.

  • Why did the bicycle catch the train?
  • Because it was two-tyred!

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

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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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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.

good shepherd mada3

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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