Another poem from Radclyffe Hall, sometime parishioner at Saint Anthony’s, Rye.
Another poem from Radclyffe Hall, sometime parishioner at Saint Anthony’s, Rye.
Yesterday’s reflection seemed incomplete after I’d set it down, though I could not put my finger on why until I found this passage from the pioneering Anglican Franciscan, Father Andrew:
Try to keep a brave will. Minds may wander and hearts feel cold, but if the will is trudging on, however heavily, love is loyal.
The most costly service is really the truest service. it is all part of that spiritual mortification which is part of the inevitable process of the soul’s education.
Mortification is not a word that springs to my mind all that often – this is the first time I’ve tagged it on this blog in 18 months. Maybe I’m just such a big softie that I was rewarded with the snowdrop for the mini-motrification of trudging on with my litter picking. Well, I was glad to see the snowdrop. Laudato Si!
I’m waiting for someone in a cafe. I sit there with my coffee. I’m glad of the space between commitments. Around me people are talking and music is playing. Why is it that through my life I have often found cafes to be as fruitful places of meeting with God as churches? Perhaps it’s the fact that I am among other people pausing. There’s no ‘ought’ about being here. I am here to sit for a while, alone or with others and drink coffee and that’s the only ‘task’ for this time. And that is so much like prayer: the simple being with God…and pausing and investing time in doing so.
Perhaps too it is because cafes are places of relationship, conversation and community. Wherever love is present – in the meeting of friends, in the act of listening and sharing – God is present. Much of the time we assume that it’s the other stuff of life – meeting deadlines, planning and delivering work – that matters; and it does. But life without pausing, friendship, sharing, and community is a poor thing. The place to make our investment is not in shares or possessions or achievements but in relationships – whether with God or with other people. Let there be time for sitting in a cafe, time for pausing, time for friendship, time for God.
Once upon a time if you used a camera you’d have to wait a good while to view the final image. The method was different from the one we’re used to in a digital age. The click of the camera button exposed the photographic film to light, forming a latent image, at this stage invisible to the eye. Further exposure to light at this stage would ruin the image, so the film had to be developed in a dark room. The process involved soaking the film in a tank of developing fluid. Slowly the hidden image would be revealed, and a ‘negative’ created. Once washed, fixed and dried the image on the film was projected onto photographic paper and the image, once seen through the eye of the camera lens, was made visible in the print.
Not being someone who could do all this, I remember the long wait between taking the photos and retrieving the finished product from the chemist. That was a long time past. It’s so much more convenient and instant now. But I wonder whether the old ways are truer to our experience of development than the instant ‘click and view’.
In looking with love God creates us, each one full of the beauty and life-giving capacity that belongs to those made in the image and the likeness of the Creator. The image is there but latent, unseen by any eye but God’s. It’s going to take time, darkness, and soaking for this image to develop.
Through the years of our life God labours patiently to develop the image. We take time. We develop in the dark room of trust in God. The darkness envelops and protects us, though it might not seem that way. When we cannot see our way and when we have no means within ourselves to manage our experience, trust moves us into God, and God moves us into who we are
And there we need to soak. Prayer is not only the saying of words, or the making of requests; it is also resting our life, our times and our experience in God. Not once for all, but hour by hour, and day by day.
Slowly the image, always there but latent, begins to form. To our own eyes the image may appear to be a negative. We become more, not less aware of our frailties and our capacity for destructiveness. But now light is needed, not of our own understanding but of the love of God: the eye that first looked through the camera lens and that joys in what it beholds.
We know that more development is needed.
And it will take time, and much love.
where my sentence ends.
I have run out of words again.
Again my sentence ends
at a full stop.
Will you not take my waiting pen
at this full stop?
Then you and I shall write again.
But all I can give you
is my full stop,
and my waiting pen.
Sometimes life seems to come to a full stop. Something ends and we don’t know what comes next. Or perhaps we just recognise the need for a pause before we set out again
In something written – as with this piece – a full stop marks the end of one line of thought. If we are reading aloud, a full stop allows a breath – a pause – before we begin again. Full stops might seem to oppose the natural flow, but we need that breath. When writing it gives space to consider what it is we want to communicate and the ways we might do so. When reading we gain the time to take in what we have read: what is being said and what is its significance?
Like a piece of writing our life with God will have plenty of full stops. They exist not to impede our activity but to empower it. Some are like the ending of a chapter. We retire or change jobs, or move home, or experience the difficult ending of a relationship. Or perhaps the full stop feels more as if it is inside us: we sense it’s time to stop something that has been significant in our life. It’s time to move on. But to what? The pause invites us to let God in. We might be tempted to rush on to the next sentence – any old sentence – to avoid this uncomfortable halt in progress. But that would be a mistake. We need a deep breath of God; it will help us see where we have been going and where the road might now lead us.
Some full stops are smaller: not the end of a chapter or even a paragraph but a break within the activity of reading or writing. ‘Sometimes’ Etty Hillesum wrote in her journal, ‘the most important thing in our whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths or the turning aside in prayer for five minutes.’ These full stops are the intentional way we abide in Christ and draw life from Christ’s abiding in us. We have space to listen to the events of our day and what has been happening within us. We remember that we move forward together. As on the written page the stops are small but frequent. They help rather than hinder the flow of our activity, giving meaning and shape to what we do.
So as you write, or read, or live this day, put in the necessary punctuation.
Continuing with Father Andrew SDC.
It is to me a comfort to think that the most natural thing in the whole world is also the most supernatural, and that is love.
The Life and Letters of Father Andrew, p159.
And turning now to the Welsh poet, W.H. Davies, to amplify that thought.
Love is a staff, and Love’s a rod,
A wise man and a fool;
I thought that I was wise, until
Love sent me back to school.
The Song of Love IV, 1926.
Let’s pray for the humility to go back to school and learn from those we meet. God loves us, ‘supernaturally’ as we used to say, through their natural love for us, whether as spouse, parent, child, friend, or the one who smiles at us in the ticket office.
The way we overcome fears is not by coldly reasoning out an alternative. It is by accepting the gift of Christ’s new heaven and new earth, given to us as love. Mary received that gift on our behalf, a vision of new stars and a new sun, the sun of righteousness and integrity. Joy is an aspect of wonder in the Christian outlook of hope, because we look forward to transforming love as a community of joy. We cherish this authentic vision of love in all the layers of our personality.
As Karl Rahner expresses it:
“An authentic vision can probably be explained as a purely spiritual touch of God, affecting the innermost centre of a man, and spreading from there to all of his faculties, his thought and imagination, which transform this touch. Hence, when a ‘vision’ reaches the consciousness of a visionary, it has already passed through the medium of his subjectivity, and therefore also bears his individual characteristics as regards language, interests, theological presuppositions and so forth.”
Does this make our distinct cultures into barriers? Not so.
“The grace of which the Church is the enduring sign is victoriously offered by God even to those who have not yet found the visible Church and who nevertheless already, without realizing it, live by its Spirit, the Holy Spirit in the love and mercy of God.” “Some who would never dream of telling themselves… that they have already received ‘the baptism of the Spirit’ of the radical freedom of love… nevertheless live in a community secretly liberated by God’s grace in the deepest core of their existence.”
During the same Freshers’ Week Fair, and only a few paces away from the Paintball Monster, a slightly (but not very) different kind of recruitment was going on. Promising safe, lucrative careers to those newcomers from secondary schools, a British Army Officers’ Training Corps Tenet had a team ready to win over students to lives of military domination. Officers are paid to be good at domination. Students who have brains sharpened by A level mental discipline are just sufficiently self-assured about their talent for drilling others and keeping the world in line. Some might feel relieved to have difficult decisions about a fruitful direction to pursue in life to be taken for them by the military.
Psychotherapist Viktor Frankl observes that “boredom exists so that we will do justice to the meaning of our life.” From a utilitarian point of view, grief and repentance “appear to be meaningless” but when told to take a sleeping pill, “the grief-stricken person commonly retorts that his sleeping better will not awaken the lost one whom he mourns.” Through love “the gates to the whole universe of values are thrown open.” Dan Berrigan says that “one of the largest tasks of all… [is] helping other people to live by other means than their fear, whether it is fear of one another, fear of the enemy, fear of the authorities, fear of prison, fear of disgrace, or fear of separation from their families.” Such inflation of reality is what “government [is] able to play on” till people can’t recognise fear of what might happen as different from what is actually happening.
‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love…’ 1 Corinthians. 13:13
St. Paul pointed out the three enduring virtues in Christian life. Mary is full of these virtues.
Mary is a model of faith. When the angel appeared and gave her the news of God’s plan for her, she accepted without knowing what would happen in the future.
She is a model of hope. Mary knew that Jesus came down from heaven. When he died on the Cross she stayed beside him and hoped until the end. Even after His death, she continued to hope in God’s promises, which were fulfilled when he rose again.
Mary is the model of charity. It was at the foot of the Cross that Jesus instructed John, his beloved disciple, to take care of his mother Mary as his own mother. Mary followed him and the other apostles to live their common life: sharing things, praying, fasting, praising God. So, she is found with them at Pentecost. She did not give up her vocation after Jesus went back to heaven. She went on loving as a mother.
As Mary is full of these three enduring Christian values, so she is a model for all Christians.
Mary full of grace, pray for us.
Wednesday February 8th 2017
Today we remember Saint Josephine Bakhita, a woman who found the strength in God’s love to overcome painful memories of cruelty and injustice in her past experience of slavery. Forgiveness can be a long process of letting go for so many of us, and we too need the help of God’s grace.
Once upon a time, I was caught up with a past hurt. When I was much younger, somebody told me that I was ugly and wasn’t worth anything. I went home and wept, looking in the mirror to see if I was really ugly. The next day, I walked up to the person and announced to her that I was not ugly. I became really angry and disassociated myself from her. Our parents intervened in the situation but it didn’t make any difference. We became enemies for years.
One day, I went to Mass and the Gospel teaching of forgiving seventy times seven times was read. It dawned on me that there is no limit to how many times we can forgive one another. When I got home, I gave her a call and she could not believe I did that. Tears ran down from my eyes and I felt a huge relief. I discovered I was holding myself in bondage all those years.
Sometimes we do things, thinking we want to hurt others and in real sense it is ourselves we are hurting. From that experience, I realised that it is only in letting go that I am able to forgive myself and others. It doesn’t matter how many times I have to do this. As Saint Josephine said, ‘”The Lord has loved me so much: we must love everyone, we must be compassionate.”’