Tag Archives: pleasure

12 August: A friendly process of detachment

This passage from A Christmas Sermon by Robert Louis Stevenson was written in 1888, when he was convalescing in the Adirondack mountains. We’ve put it here because it is his honest look at himself when he was aware of his own fragility, and it follows on from the honest answer given by the trapper in yesterday’s reflection.

To look back upon the past year, and see how little we have striven and to what small purpose: and how often we have been cowardly and hung back, or temerarious and rushed unwisely in; and how every day and all day long we have transgressed the law of kindness;—it may seem a paradox, but in the bitterness of these discoveries, a certain consolation resides.

Life is not designed to minister to a man’s vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of rewards and pleasures as it is—so that to see the day break or the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the dinner-call when he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys—this world is yet for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails, weariness assails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly process of detachment.

When the time comes that he should go, there need be few illusions left about himself. Here lies one who meant well, tried a little, failed much:—surely that may be his epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed. Nor will he complain at the summons which calls a defeated soldier from the field: defeated, ay, if he were Paul or Marcus Aurelius!—but if there is still one inch of fight in his old spirit, undishonoured.

The faith which sustained him in his life-long blindness and life-long disappointment will scarce even be required in this last formality of laying down his arms. Give him a march with his old bones; there, out of the glorious sun-coloured earth, out of the day and the dust and the ecstasy—there goes another Faithful Failure!

Robert Louis Stevenson, Writers’ Museum, Edinburgh, by Kim Traynorvia Wikipedia

From A Christmas Sermon by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1888

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December 22: He has put eternity into man’s heart.

Adam in Canterbury Cathedral. He looks as though he takes pleasure in his toil.

Ecclesiastes is one of the Wisdom books, written when the Jewish people were spread across the Mediterranean world. rubbing shoulders with all manner of folk with different ways of thinking. The writer absorbs much of their wisdom, not uncritically, but realises that human wisdom can only go so far: we need God’s revelation, his free gift. And we need – there is nothing better for us than to be joyful and to do good as long as we live.

Christmas is fast approaching but who knows who can – or even should get together for the feast? God seeks what has been driven away, and so should we, by keeping in touch by letter, card, email, phone or flowers. Over to the Preacher, Qoheleth.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. 

Ecclesiastes 3;11-15

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13 December: You have to help me IV.

nightwarsaw

Winter meant it was dark at 5.00, but the letter to Mrs Turnstone Senior needed to catch the post. Would Abel like to help with that? Of course: warm coat, wellingtons, and we were ready to face the night.

There was a red light next to the box: the postman was there, waiting to empty it; Abel urged grandad to be quick, so quick we reached the box before the postman got out. He said he was waiting till the right time to open the door. So we waited.

Open the sack,find the right key, open the big door, then the little one at the bottom of the cage; scoop out the mail, shut the inner door, shake down the bag so no letters spill. And then:

This is where you have to help me! Can you push the big door really hard for me, so it goes bang? Put your hands there and mind your fingers, 1, 2, 3, bang! And the door locked itself.

That of course made Abel’s evening. ‘Thank-you’s all round, and something to tell Mummy.

postbox.clitheroe

We are privileged to help our Creator in many ways that engage our gifts and enthuse us. We may well go back home and share the joy we had in doing God’s work, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it’s our efforts that matter most in the big scheme of things, what we used to call God’s Plan.

But Abel did post the letter, and he did slam the door tight shut. We each have our vocation which is basically to tell people they are loved by God and by us, which latter may be easier to absorb. We can write a letter,  send an email, smile, sweep the damp leaves off the street, accompany grandad to the postbox … As the Father might well say, you have to help me!

It was a much bigger box than this, and Queen Elizabeth, not Victoria.

 

 

 

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13 October: John Henry Newman: Loss and Gain.

young newman

Today in Rome Pope Francis will declare John Henry Cardinal Newman a saint of the Catholic Church, an English saint who was not a martyr but a hard-working priest and theologian. He tended the sick during epidemics in Birmingham as well as founding schools and Oratories and defending the faith through fearless enquiry.

All that and he found time to write novels, including Loss and Gain, The Story of a Convert. In the early pages he has these two contrasting passages about a familiar country walk. Draw your own conclusions!

“When we ourselves were young, we once on a time walked on a hot summer-day from Oxford to Newington—a dull road, as any one who has gone it knows; yet it was new to us; and we protest to you, reader, believe it or not, laugh or not, as you will, to us it seemed on that occasion quite touchingly beautiful; and a soft melancholy came over us, of which the shadows fall even now, when we look back on that dusty, weary journey. And why? because every object which met us was unknown and full of mystery. A tree or two in the distance seemed the beginning of a great wood, or park, stretching endlessly; a hill implied a vale beyond, with that vale’s history; the bye-lanes, with their green hedges, wound and vanished, yet were not lost to the imagination. Such was our first journey; but when we had gone it several times, the mind refused to act, the scene ceased to enchant, stern reality alone remained; and we thought it one of the most tiresome, odious roads we ever had occasion to traverse.” 

“”People call this country ugly, and perhaps it is; but whether I am used to it or no, I always am pleased with it. The lights are always new; and thus the landscape, if it deserves the name, is always presented in a new dress. I have known Shotover there take the most opposite hues, sometimes purple, sometimes a bright saffron or tawny orange.” Here he stopped. 

Loss and Gain is available on Kindle

Start reading it for free: http://amzn.eu/7WLLVaT  

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1 August: Traherne II: not by the noise of bloody wars

berlin.charlottenberg.flowerbed

Thomas Traherne lived 1636-74, when the Reformation was still taking hold in England: the time of the Civil War, the Commonwealth, that joyless period, and the Restoration of the Monarchy. His fellow Herefordian, the martyr John Kemble, was a longer-lived contemporary. We will meet him later this month.

This is Traherne’s fourth meditation, heartfelt words from a man to whom the consequences of bloody wars and the dethroning of Kings were not unknown.

I will not by the noise of bloody wars and the dethroning of kings
advance you to glory: but by the gentle ways of peace and love.

As a deep friendship meditates and intends the deepest designs for the
advancement of its objects, so doth it shew itself in choosing the
sweetest and most delightful methods, whereby not to weary but please
the person it desireth to advance.

Where Love administers physic, its tenderness is expressed in balms and cordials. It hateth corrosives, and is rich in its administrations.

Even so, God designing to show His Love in exalting you hath chosen the ways of ease and repose by whichyou should ascend.

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28 May: Happy Monday!

trees-wind-moon

 

What are some of the surprises that God has blessed you with today? Pray with this question and, together, let us allow our hearts to be open to being surprised by God’s grace!

Happy Monday!

Those few lines are by Father James Kurzynski, writing on the Vatican Observatory Website about a day full of good surprises. Do take up his challenge before bedtime, but also  follow this link to his surprising day. He was like a kid in an Astronomical Candy Store, he tells us, finishing with a shared meal with a friend and family.

Laudato Si’!

MMB

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January 10: Temperance IV: Our Appetites and our Reason

shared-meal-xmas

Our human nature was created by God in such a way as to insure our survival as a species. The bodily appetites that deliver the most pleasure also happen to be the very ones we most need in order to keep us going on the planet earth. In themselves, they are good, as St. Thomas affirms, and there is nothing wrong with the pleasure they give. But, paradoxically, we need some moderation in these areas in order to enjoy the pleasure they give. How do we manage this?

There is very little in our secular culture to help us here. The advertising media exploits all our appetites in order to sell its products, thereby increasing our desire to posses those products and experience those pleasures, and giving us a vague feeling of inferiority if we do not. Being sexually active is presented as the greatest and most fulfilling human experience by the story-line of most films, plays and television shows. Chastity is rarely presented at all, and almost never shown in a positive light. The pleasures of food and alcohol are raised to the level of culinary art by celebrity chefs and the entire food industry. Yet, the fact that there are a rising number of individuals pursuing Twelve Step1 programs in order to handle addictions in these areas testifies to the truth that the Church has always known and St. Thomas clearly articulated in the thirteenth century. We need self-control with regard to our pleasures.

We also need to think. Our mind, our reason is more powerful than we may realise and can give us the real guidance we need. How reassuring this information is: that we have within us the capacity to direct our growth in goodness. This is nothing to do with IQ, and everything to do with opening our mind to the truth and our heart to the promptings of grace.

mercy.shop (640x480)

The media and pop culture rely on us not thinking very deeply – and certainly not praying – so that we may be seduced by the personalities and products the media presents, and become consumers of what they sell. If we do not think too much, then our appetite for power and pleasure and possessions will move us to buy things that the businesses supporting the media want us to buy – things that will seem to feed these appetites, and give us the illusion that we, too, look like media stars and share somehow in their life of glamour and pleasure. This is manipulation on a grand scale. This illusion is something from which we need to withdraw in order to discover our true identity. We desperately need our ability to think, we need the use of what St. Thomas would call our reason, in order to live on a level in which we see through what is fraudulent and empty. Only then will we discover the joy of living in communion with God, and with what is true, and with a set of values in which temperance as a virtue becomes possible to us.

SJC

1It is important to point out that there can be a difference between addiction and intemperance, at least where drugs and alcohol are concerned. Drug and alcohol addiction is usually considered a disease which originates in a genetic pre-disposition to it. The only “cure” is complete abstinence from all substances. This is not the place to give a full description of the characteristics of addiction. I refer those interested in learning more about this to any writings on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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January 9: The Virtue of Temperance, III: Temperance and Moderation.

shared-table-baptistsbroadstairs

Good food in moderation: Broadstairs Baptist Church Hall.

One of the words St Thomas Aquinas uses to speak about temperance is moderation. For St. Thomas, moderation is concerned with that place between the extremes of too much and too little. It is a ‘place’ that is not always easy to find because it requires us to make use of our reason – an extremely important notion for St. Thomas in his understanding of the human person. He emphasises repeatedly that the human being is a rational animal. In saying this he wants us to understand that as ‘animals’ we do some of the things animals do. But as rational beings, we have the capacity – indeed, it is an ontological imperative – to order our ‘animal’ life according to principles and values that mere animals cannot begin to understand.

Yet, our capacity to order our life according to the ‘good of reason’ is somewhat weak, because we are ‘fallen’ through original sin. The integrity of our being is affected, and there are times when our emotions and bodily instincts are apt to clamour for what is not truly good for us. We love pleasures of all sorts, and they are often what lead us astray. We are especially attracted to the pleasures involved with food and sex.

The pleasures of food and sex fulfil our bodily existence, and enable us to continue as a species. So far so good. The trouble is that they seem to suggest that we will be made happy by pursuing these pleasures to the exclusion of all else. But pleasures can deceive. If we follow the path of pleasure in an immoderate way, we will soon experience all the misery that comes from addictive behaviour – for the bodily appetites, if unchecked, simply cry out for more and more pleasure while these same pleasures simultaneously deliver less and less of the very pleasure they seem to promise. This kind of problem simply goes with the package of our fallen human nature. No one escapes it; we must all grapple with it. Temperance, understood as the capacity to moderate the requirements of our physical life in accord with the good of reason, is the virtue that is concerned with these matters.

SJC

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December 2: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxxii – Francis could not fall very far, but he was free.

lifefrancis (2)

The second half of life usually consists of what we have denied in the first half – our shadow; which is not some form of addiction, but failure. We can’t entertain the powerlessness of loneliness, impoverishment, boredom and generally not being in charge. We settle for a kind of pleasure that lacks joy, and even involves denial of joy. We can’t imagine being happy without money, without many options. We have replaced freedom of spirit with freedom of choice.

Why did Francis move into a life of non-power, non-aggression and sine proprio? He was so close to the bottom of life that he could not fall very far, but he was free. He knew that God doesn’t look at our faults and failings, but at the many ways we have been determined to try and say yes [which is what parents hope for seeing their children]. Once experiencing being fully alive we will never fear death, because we will know that we have not just lived but have come alive, and that such life is eternal and another form of it is waiting for us. Which is what Paul urges: reproducing the power of his Resurrection – Phil.3.10.

If I have not lived fully, death will terrify me, not knowing that this is not the end. Working in Zambia showed me a village people who lived – by our standards – with next to nothing. The children played, parents scratched a living from hard ground; but they had something we lack. An attitude with no room for cynicism. When they came together their singing was spontaneous – no hymn sheets; and they smile, with nothing to smile about. Like loving, smiling enjoys its own justification, is not dependent on having a reason to smile.

What do we think about when all else is gone? What did those victims who had no access to computers and phones on the aircraft speak about before the aircraft hit the twin towers? The language we heard was love, nothing else mattered. Life’s only purpose is to live lovingly by choice, and die in the same way. How can this become life’s norm? Be careful of a too ready recourse to detachment. Those victims were far from detached from what mattered. Life’s purpose is not to become detached but attached. For this to be real, other things have to be gently set aside.

AMcC

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13 May: Time to have fun

herefords

The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs. My childhood parish priest seemed determined to make sure we were suitably miserable. Fun was equated with self-indulgence – all too likely to carry us away into the path of sin. The eleventh commandment was ‘Thou shalt not laugh, nor enjoy thyself’.

The hangover of that upbringing is that I have sometimes struggled to allow myself to enjoy life. The notion that God is a spoiler is not one I adhere to rationally but somewhere inside that image of God must linger. And yet when I remember some of the moments of deep fun that I have known I see how they abound with love, friendship, wonder, energy, and liberation: and as I put themselves back into those times I sense the presence, joy and life of God.

  • Sledging down the snow covered slopes of Greenwich Park while the ambulances circled below
  • Playing foot ball with my nephews in a muddy field
  • Losing myself in working with clay and not minding too much what shape I came up with
  • Making music with a group using my three and a half chords on a guitar
  • Going swimming on the spur of the moment with my sister in West Wales
  • Being thrown around at a barn dance without really having much clue what steps I was supposed to be making.

What moments do you remember?

Fun can have its downsides. Making fun of another at their expense is destructive. Thrill seeking can be addictive and self-centred. But these are perversions of what is essentially good and of God.

It is through fun that we lose our self-consciousness and allow ourselves to run free.

Walls of polite distance or even hostility between people evaporate in shared laughter.

Bonds of friendship are forged.

We stop taking ourselves too seriously – as if everything depended on our performance

We discover that we are creative after all – and all we needed was the opportunity and the courage to dare to express ourselves.

We delight in life, in the company of those with us and are completely held in the moment, putting aside our fears and preoccupations.

These are good moments, God moments.

In our churches and within our neighbourhoods,

in our tired lives, and amidst our difficulties

it is time to have fun!

CC.

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