Two hundred years ago and more, Wordsworth witnessed some of the early stages of the Industrial Revolution and did not look favourably upon it. There is prophecy in this sonnet: ‘we are out of tune’ indeed with nature because we are too busy getting and spending. Looking at today’s society, it is often poor people in this country and overseas who are forced to lay waste their powers, that is to work till they can do no more in order to get enough money to spend on essentials.
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: Little we see in nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; The Winds that will be howling at all hours And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers; For this, for every thing, we are out of tune; It moves us not—Great God! I’d rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.”
(from “Poems in Two Volumes, Volume 1” by William Wordsworth, 1807)
Let’s get ourselves in tune with winds, rain, sunshine and moonshine. A moonlit walk along the beach would surely move us, or a stroll in the park: even half an hour out of doors or sitting at the window. I was heartened, when in hospital, by the comings and goings of a crow who appeared from time to time over a blank brick wall which was all my view!
If we were in tune with nature there would be expansion of the rain forests, pollution control measures would actually work, concrete would start to be replaced. We could all add to the list. But let’s do what we can today, and a little more tomorrow.
Emily Dickinson’s verses prepare us for a short series on Grief and Suicide; World Suicide Prevention Day is on 10th September.
I measure every grief I meet
With analytic eyes;
I wonder if it weighs like mine,
Or has an easier size.
I wonder if they bore it long,
Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine,
It feels so old a pain.
I wonder if it hurts to live,
And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
They would not rather die.
I wonder if when years have piled —
Some thousands — on the cause
Of early hurt, if such a lapse
Could give them any pause;
Or would they go on aching still
Through centuries above,
Enlightened to a larger pain
By contrast with the love.
The grieved are many, I am told;
The reason deeper lies, —
Death is but one and comes but once,
And only nails the eyes.
There's grief of want, and grief of cold, —
A sort they call 'despair;'
There's banishment from native eyes,
In sight of native air.
And though I may not guess the kind
Correctly, yet to me
A piercing comfort it affords
In passing Calvary,
To note the fashions of the cross,
Of those that stand alone,
Still fascinated to presume
That some are like my own.
I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody, too? Then there ‘s a pair of us — don’t tell! They ‘d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody! How public, like a frog To tell your name the livelong day To an admiring bog!
I would guess that Mark’s rich young man that Sister Johanna has been talking about was a ‘somebody’, at least a local somebody, a village celebrity. Then he discovered that he was a nobody. Sister Johanna explored how getting close to Jesus meant giving away the possessions that trip us up. Emily Dickinson suggests what comes next: forming a community, not seeking affirmation from gossip column inches!
Mark reports that Jesus says, ‘You need to do one thing more’ (Mark 10:21). This very gentle remark of Jesus accompanies his gaze of love. Jesus seems to be tenderly overlooking the young man’s sense of himself as being perfect–or nearly so. Surely, Jesus knows that there is not only “one thing” but many things the young man needs to do or become, but Jesus may be thinking that there will be time enough for the young man to come to terms with his weaknesses and to acquire a more realistic estimation of himself. For the moment, Jesus knows that if he can just persuade him to do only ‘one very important thing more,’ that very important thing will enable the young man well and truly to begin a deeper life, rooted in God: ‘Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’ (Mark 10:21).
And, tragically, here the conversation ends. The delightful young man with the “can do” personality suddenly confronts something he cannot do. Possibly, his life has been a bit too easy up to now and he knows it. That may be one of the reasons why he is there to begin with, kneeling before Jesus. But the effect of Jesus’ words is immediate.
The young man clearly didn’t expect Jesus to say that. And indeed, wealth was considered by the Jewish people to be a sign of God’s favour and blessing. “What’s this about?” he may well have thought. But he doesn’t linger to discuss the matter with Jesus. Had he done so, Jesus might have explained that the Kingdom belonged to the poor in spirit and that wealth, with its trappings of glamour and its conferral of undeserved honour, was a spiritual handicap. In any case, now we reach the part of the story where the rich young man ceases to be an example of how to win Jesus’ love (although I do not doubt that Jesus continued to love him deeply). At this stage in the story the young man becomes an example of the paradox that we lose everything when we attempt to save everything–for we who read this know that Jesus himself is ‘everything’ and he is more than worth the loss of everything else. Indeed, the loss of everything else is the condition for gaining a close relationship with Jesus. It is a small price to pay.
A small price, but I am asking myself now what I am trying to hang onto that may be separating me from a close relationship with Jesus. I will stay with that uncomfortable question for a day and return tomorrow.
We are continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection on Jesus and the rich young man. She advises: ‘If you’ve just joined us, I hope you will scroll back to yesterday’s post to see where we’ve come from and where we are going.’
Today, I return to the beginning of the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-22 in order to read it again more slowly, to see if I can answer the questions with which we ended yesterday’s reflection. And maybe, with the Spirit’s help, I can. I take my time, allowing my imagination gently to engage with the words of the text. I notice that, first, Mark tells us that Jesus is about to start on a journey. I slowly picture it. It’s always difficult to get started on a journey, no matter what century you happen to live in. Somehow organising yourself and others for the trip and thanking hosts and saying good-bye to dear friends and family always takes much longer than planned. When you’re finally ready to leave, you’re loath to be delayed again. If something happens to interfere with the departure it is usually dealt with as quickly as possible and with more than a hint of exasperation.
Enter: the rich young man. The fact that Jesus’ journey is about to begin places the young man at some disadvantage; nevertheless, he bursts onto the scene and ‘runs up’ to Jesus (Mk. 10:17). Some people, afraid of causing inconvenience, would have given up before they began and gone home without meeting Jesus, and ordinarily, this might be the wise thing to do. But not in the judgement of the young man of our story. He seems to realise that meeting Jesus is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that must not be thrown away. Perhaps because he is a rich man (and people are usually rather in awe of the rich), no one there tries to circumvent this encounter with Jesus in order to spare Jesus the inconvenience. Nor does Jesus indicate that the delay is a problem to him. Indeed, we see again and again in the gospels that Jesus is always ready to talk to someone who is sincerely seeking him. And the young man is nothing if not sincere.
So, the young man ‘runs up’ to Jesus. This is another detail that is in Mark and not the other gospels. I try to enter fully into Mark’s experience of this event. I see the young man. He looks an intelligent person, he’s attractive–as the rich often seem to be because they can afford the best clothes and the best, most skilled people to groom their hair and skin; he is, therefore, well dressed, but at this moment he’s actually rather a mess. He is hot and breathless from running–he has, for now, forgotten his usual rich-boy persona and slick appearance. He has, in fact, forgotten himself entirely in his desire to see Jesus.
And Jesus? He is silent at first, according to the text. He lets the young man state his business. But Jesus cannot miss the earnestness in him. Moreover, the young man immediately kneels before Jesus. Mark’s touch again. The kneeling impressed Mark, and I can see why. The rich young man could have presumed upon the status conferred by his wealth. He could have stood before Jesus, eye to eye, man to man. But he does not. The rich man puts aside all privilege and kneels down. He has grasped something essential about Jesus: he has grasped Jesus’ greatness.
I’m looking, as I said yesterday, for what the rich young man can teach me. Jesus will look at him with love in a few minutes. Why? Many reasons have already been given here. The young man’s urgency and his determination to see Jesus, his self-forgetfulness, his sincerity, his awareness of Jesus’ greatness and his own comparative littleness, his spontaneous decision to kneel down.
I want to give this opening scene time to become fruitful in me and allow these reasons for Jesus’ love the space they need to locate themselves within my heart and prayer. I want to be that young man for a little while–a full day. Tomorrow, we will continue.
Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey has been getting to grips with the Gospel of Saint Mark, and that old question, what must I do to inherit eternal life? You’ll find the next few days’ readings well worth spending time with; thank you Sister!
Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery You shall not steal; You shall not give false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these since my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and he was filled with love for him, and he said, ‘You need to do one thing more. Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth (Mark 10:17-22, translation: New Jerusalem Bible).
Some biblical passages are particularly fertile ground, and for me, the story of the rich young man is one of them.* I find it a haunting tale; it is hard to let go of it; it is always in my mind, always pulling me back to itself. So I want to give in to the pull and return to this story now.
All the synoptic gospels tell the story of the rich young man (see Luke 18:18-23; Matthew 10:16-22; Mark 10:17-22). The reflections for this post will come from my reading of Mark’s account because Mark has some important details that don’t appear in the other accounts. And I’m grateful that Mark’s memory seized on these differences and wouldn’t let them go; his account of the rich young man’s meeting with Jesus has changed the way I view him. Previously, I had found myself reacting strongly against ‘that rich boy,’ as I tended to call him: I wanted to tell him off! Because of Mark, everything’s changed.
So, what does Mark’s story have that is so important? I want to start with something he says at the end of his account; he tells us that Jesus looks at the young man with love (Mk 10: 21). Neither Matthew nor Luke mention this; only Mark. Mark clearly wants us to notice this and so I follow his lead and allow those words to affect me deeply. In fact, I cannot go on; I stop reading. Everything slows down as I allow his phrase to settle in my soul. I try to imagine Jesus’ gaze of love; I become aware that I intensely want Jesus to look at me with love. How wonderful to receive that look–the softening warmth of the eyes, the gentle smile, the lingering gaze, the moments of silence. What has the young man done or said, I want to know, that awakens Jesus’ love? Can the rich young man teach me something about what Jesus is looking for? Can he teach you? Let’s allow these questions to work on us until tomorrow when we will continue our meditation.
* I have written about the story of the rich young man before in these posts (see 7 and 8 December 2020).
We pray for the Synod, that we may listen and so be conscious of the voice of the Holy Spirit, dwelling deep within our hearts; a prayer from St. Scholastica Monastery – USA
In silence, we listen
We come to you, Oh God, in silence to listen with the ear of the heart to the indwelling voice of your Holy Spirit.
We pray for unity of all the poor, the voiceless, the marginalised and all of those who are excluded. Gift our bishops with open hearts and ears to hear the Church, the people of God, with wisdom, knowledge, patience and courage. Amen.
Tomorrow: we celebrate the woman who listened with wisdom, knowledge, patience and courage. And said, Yes.
What is Lent all about? One answer is that it is about being conscious of our relationships with God and our neighbours. This is well expressed in the following prayer from Lenten Vespers in the Byzantine Rite:
While fasting with the body, brothers and sisters,
let us also fast in spirit.
Let us loosen every bond of iniquity;
let us undo the knots of every contact made by violence;
let us tear up all unjust agreements;
let us give bread to the hungry
and welcome to our house the poor who have no roof to cover them,
that we may receive mercy from Christ our God.
From The Lenten cookbook by Scott Hahn and David Geisser p31. Reviewed here on 12 February.
The churches are an important part of Canterbury’s work to get people off the streets. Being allowed to camp in the churchyard at Saint Mildred’s is perhaps as much help as these particular people can accept at this time.
God of Love,
show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who have power and money,
that they may love the common good,
advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
seize us with your power and light,
help us protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you! AMEN.
St. Francis was not so much a minstrel merely singing his own songs as a dramatist capable of acting the whole of his own play. The things he said were more imaginative than the things he wrote. The things he did were more imaginative than the things he said. His whole course through life was a series of scenes in which he had a sort of perpetual luck in bringing things to a beautiful crisis.
To talk about the art of living has come to sound rather artificial than artistic. But St. Francis did in a definite sense make the very act of living an art, though it was an unpremeditated art. Many of his acts will seem grotesque and puzzling to a rationalistic taste. But they were always acts and not explanations; and they always meant what he meant them to mean. The amazing vividness with which he stamped himself on the memory and imagination of mankind is very largely due to the fact that he was seen again and again under such dramatic conditions. From the moment when he rent his robes and flung them at his father’s feet to the moment when he stretched himself in death on the bare earth in the pattern of the cross, his life was made up of these unconscious attitudes and unhesitating gestures.”
From Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis by G. K. Chesterton.
I feel I often have to adopt conscious attitudes and hesitant gestures, but perhaps I also try to explain myself to myself a bit too often.