Tag Archives: humour

October 13: Cooperation in Joy

It’s about time we sat back to listen to Sister Johanna from Minster Abbey, who knows how to tell a story afresh, with help from Alfie the Collie.

Even the puppies eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table (Mt.15:27).

I think it would be wonderful to be irresistible to Jesus, to surprise him by getting something really right, make him do a double-take and ask, ‘Did she just say that?’ It rarely happens in the gospels, but there are a few instances of it. And one of them is recounted in Matthew 15:21-28.

Jesus and his disciples are travelling, on foot, as usual. They are in the region of Tyre and Sidon – a gentile area. A Canaanite woman, gentile therefore, turns up. And she starts shouting at the top of her lungs, calling to Jesus. At first, her talent seems to lie chiefly in making a pest of herself – at least as far as the disciples are concerned, for they urge Jesus to give her what she wants, ‘…because she keeps shouting after us.’ We know the type, and cringe. The woman is pushy–in the extreme: she’s noisy, her voice probably harsh and grating, she’s insistent, she won’t be brushed off. She shouts out two titles to grab Jesus’ attention (maybe one will work): ‘Lord! Son of David!’ Then ‘…take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ Over and over, apparently.

And Jesus seems to be ignoring her. Even after reading this story many, many times over the years, I still feel a jolt at Jesus seeming to blank this woman. Why does he do it? I think Jesus himself answers that question when he says to the disciples, ‘But I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ To my mind, what Jesus is saying here is that he is not sure whether the woman would have the capacity to receive what he could give her. Her religious background was unknown; at least the lost sheep of the House of Israel would have the religious sensibility to understand Jesus’ message–or they would in theory, anyway. The gentiles would largely need a different approach. How much would this woman be able to grasp of Jesus’ teaching and his person? I think Jesus’ uncertainty is real. But he will soon have an answer to his question.

The woman overhears what Jesus says, and she has the pluck to come right up to him and show him what she is able to understand. First, she again appeals to his compassion: ‘Lord, help me.’ By this time, whenever I read the story, I am always on her side, pest or no pest, and I really don’t want Jesus to say what he says next, but there’s no help for it. He says: ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the puppies.’ Scholarly exegesis is always quick to point out that Jesus isn’t insulting her; not really. In that culture and at that time, the word for puppies or little dogs softens an expression which itself was a conventional one devoid of the sting we would read into it. It was standard for Jews to refer to gentiles as dogs, evidently. With all our sensitivities today, it is still hard for us not to be taken aback, but it’s possible to imagine Jesus with a kindly expression in his eyes as he refers to the ‘little dogs’ or ‘puppies.’ And, the fact is, the Canaanite woman doesn’t object to it. In fact, she revels in it. It is exactly the handle she needs to hoist herself up in Jesus’ estimation – by a mile. Her life is about to become a lot better.

She has come to Jesus with absolutely no claims and no pretensions. She does not try to be what she isn’t; she isn’t a child of Israel, and she expects to be called a little dog. At the same time, she knows what she knows about Jesus, and she is certain that Jesus has supernatural power capable of healing her daughter. She is determined to obtain her daughter’s healing from him. So she is ready for him. To Jesus’ comment about not wanting to throw the children’s food to the puppies, she makes the brilliant and faith-filled rejoinder: ‘Ah, yes, Lord, but even the little dogs eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table.’

Suddenly this pest is transformed into a paragon of everything Jesus wants to see in us. She is loving. She is straightforward about herself. She is full of faith with regard to Jesus. She is brave, truthful, frank, plucky and, as a bonus, ingeniously witty. This combination is irresistible to him. She understands all right, probably a lot better than some of the lost sheep of Israel do, and is fully able to receive the gift that Jesus is able to give. ‘Woman, you have great faith!’ he exclaims. ‘Let your desire be granted!’ And surely, this was said with an amazed smile and even a laugh on Jesus’ part. She must have filled Jesus with such joy, even as she herself was filled with joy by Jesus.

I said at the beginning that I’d like to be irresistible to Jesus, surprising him by the strength of my faith. This story makes me question some attitudes I have. Would I be as plucky as the Canaanite woman? She knew that as a gentile, she was not entitled to Jesus’ gift, but she was willing to receive any scrap from him that she could scavenge, and knew that such a scrap would be filled with his mighty power. How do I measure up against her willingness and faith? Against her perseverance in prayer? Don’t I tend to grow discouraged? Don’t I bring a subtle attitude of entitlement to prayer? I am not entitled to Jesus’ gift of friendship, healing and eternal salvation any more that she was. When Jesus seems to ignore my prayer, when he seems silent, don’t I feel just a bit put out? A little bit of entitlement is not much better than a lot of it. Perhaps by meditating on this Canaanite woman I may learn from her the attitudes that Jesus finds irresistible, and then find that we are cooperating in joy.

SJC

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4 April, Desert XXXVI: Perseverance and Beauty.

A thought from the French singer-songwriter Laurent Voulzy, who put off writing a song to Jesus for 10 years. You can hear him sing it at the link below.

Right now, I am searching, I pray every day, I go into churches and I look at the diversity of faces … and I see wickedness in some of them …

The idea of faith as perseverance, full of humour and beautiful light, is a part of my prayer. It gives me a reason to believe, to feel joy every day, even if our times do not evoke it. My faith consists of questions. God is in all the faces I see, in all the questions that I put to myself. And in my search for answers…

Laurent Voulzy

Door of Mercy, Holy Family Basilica, Zakopane, Poland.

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17 December: Looking up.

francis stargazing

One of our friends urged me to share my experience of Assisi in September. Well, it will filter through as the weeks go by. This reflection is based on an extraordinary statue of Francis at the Hermitages where he and his and companions lived in caves in the rock face – caves that have since been enhanced, over the years, with walls and windows and more or less even stairways. But it was very much the outdoor life when Francis came here.

The hermitage was difficult to get to, a stiff uphill walk on an uneven track even to this day. The wooded hillside around it is a sanctuary, and certainly respected as a quiet place when we were there. And here we found Francis, lying on the rocky ground, looking skywards. I forget whether he was watching stars or clouds.

Not long ago I had a few hours with my new grandson, who was just getting used to having eyes; he was fascinated by the passing clouds, and somehow conveyed to me that he wanted to go outside and watch them without the intermediary of a window. So we went outside and his eyes opened ever wider.

Let’s pray for the grace to become as a little child and open our eyes to God’s beauty, even where humans have tried to tame it to suit our ideas rather than his. And let’s look out every day for the coming week: there will be a bright new shining star of some sort that will shine a light on our pilgrimage towards the Manger:

Laudato Si!

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November 21: The King V: Over to Jesus.

 

Readers who are picking up these posts for the first time may wish to scroll back to Sunday 17th to catch up. We are looking at the dialogue between Jesus and Pontius Pilate in John 18:1-19:22. Today we are reflecting on John 18:33-38.

If Pilate pleases the crowd he may gain their support, and that could be useful in the future, possibly. This is always in the back of Pilate’s mind. Jesus has just told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and Pilate has retorted, ‘So then! You are a king’? In answer, Jesus volleys the question right back to him: ‘It is you who say that I am a king,’ Or, the words of Jesus could be fairly rephrased as, “It is you who are so determined to misunderstand my words about kingship.” Jesus’ statement exposes Pilate’s power-obsession.

Pilate can’t quite believe Jesus when he implies that worldly kingship and power are not what define him. Again, the sniffer dog is alert in Pilate. If that is true, there must be some other power that Jesus has that has caused this furore. What would that be? Jesus answers this implied question. He now solemnly gives the reason for his very existence, and explains the nature of his power and kingship: ‘I was born for this,’ Jesus says. ‘I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth, and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.

Truth is indeed powerful, but Pilate has never seen enough of it at work in a human being to realise just how powerful. We, the readers of the text, can see that Truth has frightened the religious authorities enough to turn them into murderers. But this is not something of which Pilate has any real understanding – or not yet. On the contrary, Pilate bursts out, ‘Truth?? What is that?’ Or, he might just as well have said, What use is that? Who really cares about truth? Almost no one! Certainly not this group of Jews, for whom Jesus seems to be challenging a religion that they think has been good enough for a very long time. But at least Pilate realises now that Jesus will never be a rival to any political power on those grounds. Yes, Pilate is smug now, thinking that he has at last sussed it. He is incredulous that such a fuss is being made over a man who is little more, in his estimation, than a harassed philosopher. This man Jesus does not deserve the death sentence.

Pilate is exasperated as he goes out to the dais and makes his pronouncement to the crowd, ‘I find no case against him.’ The accusations against Jesus seem unfounded to Pilate, and the mob-violence bizarre. Few authorities in charge of keeping order in their district would feel indifferent about such a situation. Nor is Pilate indifferent, but neither is he a moralist. He merely wants to regain control. Pilate probably wonders: does all this strange hate come from only a small but vocal minority? A few pushy crackpots? What about the rest of the people? So Pilate offers the saner majority (if such majority exists) a chance to swing this situation. Pilate says to the crowd, ‘According to a custom of yours, I should release one prisoner at the Passover; shall I release this king of the Jews?’

It would be easy to idealise Pilate here for this seeming reluctance to sentence Jesus, but let’s consider: does Pilate care about Jesus for any religious reasons? No. He has already made that clear. He is a political animal. He just wants to end this crazy religious feud and restore order. He sees that Jesus is a nobody: not rich, not influential, not ambitious; Jesus knows none of the right people. His only claim is that he knows truth and who cares about that? In Pilate’s mind, Jesus is rather a freak, but no more than that. The sniffer dog in Pilate has temporarily gone to lie down. But he will soon be alert again.

 

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10 November: Remembrance 2019

 

southsea

This is a view of Portsmouth from the sea. The monument on the left is the Naval Memorial, and this still is Navy town, though there are fewer ships and fewer sailors than in 1944, when the city was an important departure point for the D-Day Normandy Landings.

Back in June this year some the old men who took part in that action to liberate France and Europe returned with the British Legion, as well as their allied counterparts. The Legion’s Head of Remembrance, Nicholas Rowlands had been preparing the men for this last big commemoration in Normandy, and he told the i newspaper*:

A lot of their memories are, naturally, quite sad. But the ones that  they tend to connect with the most are the funny memories. You can see them go back to 1944 and they’re 19 years old again,  it’s lovely.

The tall Naval Memorial cannot be ignored; the deaths of soldiers, sailors and airmen, nurses and ambulance drivers must not be ignored, nor the suffering in the occupied countries, the concentration camps, and the continuing conflicts around the world today.

But the way the funny memories light up the veterans says something about the human spirit. We can find absurdity frightening, or we can look on it as something to be laughed at, to be smiled over in retrospect. Absurdity is a hint that there is peace of mind to be had somewhere. We can connect with that peace by acknowledging our sinfulness and frailties and by laughing absurdity and fear out of court.

* Rob Hastings, I-newspaper 4.6.19 p20

Portsmouth, an important departure point for the landings and for today’s peace time ferries.

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15 September: Brownings XII: to be written to is the chief gladness

 

Elizabeth Barrett is writing to Robert Browning:
“But to be written to is the chief gladness of course; and with all you say of liking to have my letters (which I like to hear quite enough indeed) you cannot pretend to think that yours are not more to me, most to me! Ask my guardian-angel and hear what he says! Yours will look another way for shame of measuring joys with him! Because as I have said before, and as he says now, you are all to me, all the light, all the life; I am living for you now.
 And before I knew you, what was I and where? What was the world to me, do you think? and the meaning of life? And now, when you come and go, and write and do not write, all the hours are chequered accordingly in so many squares of white and black, as if for playing at fox and goose … only there is no fox, and I will not agree to be goose for one … that is you perhaps, for being ‘too easily’ satisfied. So my claim is that you are more to me than I can be to you.
A running joke between two people who are totally sure of each other, and will soon elope to Italy as man and wife despite Elizabeth’s father. But letters between friends – we have few excuses for not whizzing off the occasional email to arrive in Australia or Zambia almost before it’s left the keyboard. Of course they may never be collated into two volumes for public consumption; let our emails be private and let the recipient decide whether to keep them.
And letters from our Creator are there for us, via Paul, Peter, John, Jude; and really in all of the Bible. No need to get up from the computer and find a hard copy, two clicks and the Scripture is there at our fingertips in many languages.
We can answer God’s messages by going to Universalis for the daily prayer of the Church. We are spoilt children, though Elizabeth Barrett was receiving two or three posts per day in central London, compared to just one today.
Who are you going to write to today, this minute, to incite gladness? 
And let’s say thank you for human ingenuity and information technology. Which includes the pens and paper that RB and EBB enthused about occasionally!
(from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning) From Project Gutenberg
Angel – God’s messenger – from St Mary Magdalene, Davington, Kent.

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September 5: In praise of rain IV.

ams.fountain1

I trust I’ll be forgiven for using two photos from Amsterdam to accompany GKC’s thoughts on cold showers for the English. These young people were enjoying a public and communal shower-bath in April and sharing their enjoyment with family and friends! And I guess an craftily programmed computer controlled the flow. Social media if not a socialistic institution.

If the Englishman is really fond of cold baths, he ought not to grumble at the English climate for being a cold bath. In these days we are constantly told that we should leave our little special possessions and join in the enjoyment of common social institutions and a common social machinery. I offer the rain as a thoroughly Socialistic institution. It disregards that degraded delicacy which has hitherto led each gentleman to take his shower-bath in private. It is a better shower-bath, because it is public and communal; and, best of all, because somebody else pulls the string.

Baptism is also public and communal, since all Christians are called to be baptised, either as infants or as believing adults and anyone may attend a baptism in a public church. The churches recognise each other’s baptism and do not re-baptise people who were Christened before joining a particular church.

ams.fountain2

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June 2: No shadow of doubt in her mind; Brownings XI.

 

shadows-640x480

Let’s return to Elizabeth Barrett Barrett (Ba) and Robert Browning’s letters. You’ll recall how they carried on courting under the eye of her tyrannical father until they eloped to Italy. Here is EBB, writing on 30 March 1946. No thought now that his feeling for her was a mere generous impulse; not really, or is she teasing him? Surely she is.

How one writes and writes over and over the same thing!

But day by day the same sun rises, . . over, and over, and nobody is tired. May God bless you, dearest of all, and justify what has been by what shall be, . . and let me be free of spoiling any sun of yours! Shall you ever tell me in your thoughts, I wonder, to get out of your sun?

No–no–Love keeps love too safe! and I have faith, you see, as a grain of mustard-seed!

Your own

Ba.

Say how you are . . mind!

Nobody is tired of the sun rising each day, in fact the Psalms are full of joy and praise for the daily wonder, such as here in Ps 19. Love keeps love safe, indeed: God even provides a metaphorical tent, or tabernacle, for the sun!

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

Read more Browning letters here.

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Pilgrimage Day 4.

 

On the last day we walk less miles. From Patrixbourne we follow the Pilgrims’ Way back home to Canterbury. Our first stop will be when we first see the Cathedral; we love Ines’s picture.

We’ll cross the city and make for Saint Mildred’s church – here she is with her grandfather, Ethelbert – and then under the arch of hops to the Glebe, the L’Arche garden project. The BBQ can commence! The hops shown here are in St Thomas’s Church, Canterbury, and they stand for all the work of the farmers and their farmhands around the city.

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May 11: The Best Medicine? ask the Irish Chaplaincy.

Another posting from Eddie at the Irish Chaplaincy.


Eddie Gilmore

Eddie Gilmore

When coming away from my regular visit to one of our Irish Chaplaincy Seniors I was reflecting on how uplifted I felt and how it had to do, in part, by how much we had laughed during the visit. This particular lady is only in her 70s but has fairly advanced dementia, and her sister moved over from Ireland to stay in the one-bedroom flat as a live-in carer. It’s a challenging situation but we always regale one another with funny stories, and we hoot with laughter.

I’ve been enjoying a book by James Martin, the American Jesuit, called ‘Between Heaven and Mirth’ with the sub-title ‘Why joy, humour and laughter are at the heart of the spiritual life’. He speaks of the importance of humour, especially in religious settings, which can easily become terribly serious and joyless. I imagine, sadly, that there are many people who might consider laughter to be incompatible with church or religion. And I was interested to see in a recent survey in the Church of England that people didn’t want their priests to be cracking lots of jokes in their sermons! It’s true that humour doesn’t really come across in the gospels. I fear this is a case of jokes getting lost in translation (besides the notion that religion is a ‘serious business’) because I like to think that the stories of Jesus were filled with humour and hilarity, and that he liked nothing better than to have a good laugh with some of the dodgy characters he hung out with.

I still remember the words of my dear friend Tony (and the jokes he told) in his best man speech at my wedding. He reminded us that the words ‘humour’, ‘humility’ and ‘human’ all come from the Latin word ‘humus’ which means earth and ground, so that when we laugh we are connected in a particular way with the ground we walk upon and with those we walk with. It could be said indeed that a sure sign of a growing connection and intimacy with another person is the ability to laugh together. Physiologically, as well, it’s healthy for us to laugh. A good, hearty laugh can relieve physical tension and stress and leave the muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. It boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, therefore improving resistance to disease. It also reduces blood pressure and releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Laughter is almost as good for the body as going to the gym! And it doesn’t cost a penny in membership! I remember at one time somebody in the NHS having the idea to send comedians into hospitals to help patients to laugh but sadly it doesn’t seem to have caught on.

And talking of funny people, I was tickled to hear what happened when John Cleese met the Dalai Lama. They didn’t say a word to one another but simply broke into spontaneous and prolonged laughter! James Martin tells us in his book that the Trappist monk and prolific spiritual writer Thomas Merton could be identified by visitors to his monastery in Kentucky (at a time, in the 1960s, when there were 200 monks there) because he was the one who was always laughing. And one of the many nice stories in the book concerns Mother Theresa from the time when John Paul II was pope and creating loads of new saints. A young sister asked what she would have to do in her life to achieve sainthood. Mother Theresa replied “die now; this pope’s canonising everyone”!

This season of Lent is perhaps not readily associated with fun and frivolity. Yet, in the scripture readings from Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent we have Jesus warning us (Matthew 6) not to look miserable when we fast; and we are reminded of the words from Isaiah 58 of the kind of fast that is pleasing to God:

“Let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke;

Share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor”

And I would add, try and have a bit of a laugh with people as well. It’s one of the things that most profoundly binds us together in our common humanity.

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