"THOSE who have everything but thee, my God, laugh at those who have nothing but thyself." from "Stray Birds" by Rabindranath Tagore
Tag Archives: pride
Another Advent look at children, showing us adults how to receive the Kingdom of God.
“As to intelligence—a little intelligence is sufficiently dramatic, if it is single. A child doing one thing at a time and doing it completely, produces to the eye a better impression of mental life than one receives from—well, from a lecturer.”
One might add a word on the spontaneous co-operation between children seen on this photograph. ‘It’s only play, not serious’, you may say. But Someone said “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10)
Lecturers, teachers, preachers*: beware of self-importance!
from “The Colour of Life; and other essays on things seen and heard”, 1898
*(Not to mention politicians! 14.12.2019).
Children at Aberdaron Beach, Wales.
As part of their Week of Retreat in Daily Life the L’Arche Kent Community asked me to read a Hans Christian Andersen story: I chose the Darning Needle which you can read by following the link. It’s a story with a few morals to it which we talked about afterwards, including the dangers of pride and the fact that we all need each other.
We also talked about darning and mending rather than throwing away. I had with me a coat that was coming apart at the seams. G and E suggested in Makaton that I could sew it, which I did when the story was told, but the needle had been threaded and passed around during the telling. J showed his tailoring skills and awoke a memory, which I shared, of my mother doing as he did, measuring the working length of thread from nose to extended fingertips.
G suggested using a machine, which led to my telling about my wife’s machine – hand turned, not treadle as he signed. This had been given to her 40 years ago from the community’s surplus. It had belonged to a friend of L’Arche in those early days, who was glad to see it in a good home. She could never use it; it was all that remained of her own home, which was destroyed in the Blitz, her family within it.
When I got home I realised another story could have been told. The yarn J threaded was branded ‘winfield’ – in lower case. It had come from Woolworth’s, via my wife’s mother’s mending basket, purchased perhaps in the 1970s. But thereby would hang yet another tale.
No man, or woman, is an island!
Ever notice crows
walk like cow-boys,
toes in, wide stride,
tough guys of the garden?
from a distant tree – safe
they think. I watch
from the window over
the kitchen sink.
crows must hatch, wet, needy
and fragile, like other birds,
but now full grown, I half expect
my crow to chew tobacco and spit,
he seems so full of bravado,
compared to prissy little tits.
Does size mean power?
A swagger, a loud caw?
Animals seem to think so.
EVEN as our Lord Jesus Christ saith in the Gospel: “I know My little sheep and they know Me,” so the good father St. Francis, like a good shepherd, knew all the merits and virtues of his companions by Divine revelation, and so likewise he knew their imperfections also; whereby he was able to provide for all of them the best remedy; to wit, humbling the proud, exalting the humble, rebuking vice, and praising virtue; as may be read in the wonderful revelations which he had concerning that first family of his.
Among the which we find that once, when St. Francis was with his said family in a Place, discoursing of God, Friar Ruffino was not with them, being in the wood in contemplation; but, while they continued to discourse of God, lo! Friar Ruffino [a noble citizen of Assisi, but a nobler servant of God, a most pure virgin, sublimated by the noble prerogative of Divine contemplation, and adorned before God and man with the flowers of odoriferous conversation] came forth from the wood and passed by at some distance from them.
Thereupon, St. Francis, beholding him, turned to his companions and asked them: “Tell me, which, think ye, is the holiest soul that God hath upon this earth?” Whereto they made answer and said that they believed it was his own. Then St. Francis said unto them: “Most dear friars, I am of myself the most unworthy and the vilest man that God hath in this world; but see ye that Friar Ruffino who is now coming forth from the wood? God hath revealed unto me that his soul is one of the three holiest souls in the world; and of a sooth I tell you that I would not fear to call him St. Ruffino while he is yet alive, inasmuch as his soul is confirmed in grace and sanctified and canonised in heaven by our Lord Jesus Christ;” but St. Francis never spake these words in the presence of the said Friar Ruffino.
How St. Francis knew the imperfections of his friars was clearly seen in like manner in Friar Elias, whom he often rebuked for his pride; and in that Friar Giovanni della Cappella, unto whom he foretold that he would hang himself by the neck; and in that friar whose throat was held fast by the devil what time he was admonished for disobedience; and in many other friars whose secret defects and virtues he knew clearly by revelation of Christ.
The artist of Strasbourg Cathedral shows the Lamb of God releasing the suicide Judas ready to remove him from Hell’s Mouth.
Woodland photograph by Eleanor Billingsley
“The Presence” is a reflection on God’s dwelling among his people down the ages, and upon how, wherever he truly is might be regarded as a “temple”. John’s Gospel records Jesus referring to his own body as the temple. It was only through the destruction of that “temple”, and its being raised up after three days, that the dark powers of this world could be brought down.
The chains keeping us bound to those powers and to their dehumanising influences have been broken, and so we, as we respond to him, find ourselves becoming “temples”; God chooses to dwell in our own lives. It is when we turn our faces towards him in thankful praise and true worship (as would be appropriate in a temple of God) that “the blessing”, once given to the Israelites in the wilderness, becomes for us a healing, present reality.
Where Presence filled each sight and sound
With harmony and life,
And one who, fashioned from the ground,
Delighted in his wife;
Where grace and kindness filled their days
And joy was in the air,
As all creation joined in praise
To Him who’d set it there.
To Him, who walked the very space,
Who knew and loved his own,
Where they could gaze upon his face
And wouldn’t feel alone.
The One who spoke as loving friend,
Who shared his perfect will,
Was pleased to dwell where all was well
And everything was still.
Then all was lost to pride and death
And sickness, lies and shame;
The very ones he’d given breath
Now trembled at his name.
And fear and hate and hate and fear
Would hold the nations bound
To lifeless idols, sword and spear,
And blood upon the ground.
If love with love could be revealed
And life with life remade,
And broken, hurting souls be healed
Because a debt was paid;
And those forgiven could forgive,
And angry hearts could mourn,
And if the dead began to live
Because a veil was torn –
The Presence on an ancient hill,
Beaten, nailed and speared –
But stubborn will rejects him still,
And sneers as once they sneered.
The Presence, whose ways and thoughts
Lift bitterness and care:
Better one day in his courts
Than a thousand spent elsewhere.
Image: Worship by Jun Jamosmos
I thought I’d put these two passages together for the Sunday when we read the extract from Luke – only to find that these verses are not used. So here we are today instead, it’s Mary’s feast day and she features in this post.
And they brought unto him also infants, that he might touch them. Which when the disciples saw, they rebuked them. But Jesus, calling them together, said: Suffer the children to come to me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen, I say to you: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a child, shall not enter into it.
I am used to rather sentimental pictures of this story, a stained glass Jesus who looks like a film star, perfectly trimmed beard, freshly shampooed blond hair …
But I cast my mind back and thought of the children making the Way of the Cross with me in St Thomas’ church, Canterbury. Spontaneously a group of them gathered around the life size Mary and Jesus in the Pieta. wanting to stroke, console and condole with the Sorrowful Mother.
There was no disrespect in this, and mercifully, no-one present took offence. Yet I could imagine the tut-tuts that might have been uttered another time. No doubt the little ones who met Jesus in the flesh wanted to touch him and climb all over him, and it’s not difficult to envisage the disciples trying to pull them away. But ‘of such is the kingdom of God.’ I think it is fair to let this phrase suggest that Jesus felt himself within the kingdom when the children were swarming over him.
Pope Francis gave his customary press conference on the plane returning from World Youth Days in Panama
At the end of the conference the Pope thanked reporters for their work, and left them with a final thought about Panama: “I would like to say one thing about Panama: I felt a new sentiment, this word came to me: Panama is a noble nation. I found nobility.
“And then”, he concluded, “I would like to mention something else, which we in Europe do not see and which I saw here in Panama. I saw the parents raising their children and saying: this is my victory, this is my pride, this is my future. In the demographic winter that we are living in Europe – and in Italy it is below zero – it must make us think. What is my pride? Tourism, holidays, the villa, the dog? Or the child?”
I am proud of my children, though (or even because) they are all very different. But it would not be a healthy pride if they needed to win my approval rather than doing right, and following their own vocation rather than one laid down by their parents. I can say of my family – with those Panamanian parents – this is my victory, this is my pride, this is my future. Though I trust I will not be too much of a burden to any of them when I’m definitely doddering!
Brocagh School in Ireland, 50 years ago.
Our good friend Christina Chase has allowed us to use this story from her own blog, ‘Divine Incarnate.’ It’s always worth reading her reflections; the second half of this will appear tomorrow. And thanks to her father Dan for the picture, which shows Christina’s hands cradling a family heirloom – a tin cup used by her grandfather in logging camps. Thank you for a glimpse into your family’s eternity!
It happened on a chilly September day, a simple moment that’s never left me. I was a young adult with my parents, following my eldest French-Canadian cousin in a tour of old Montréal. I remember the colourful splashes of garden amidst stone buildings, the glassed-in eatery where we had hot chocolate and poutine, and, indelibly, the old man begging outside of Notre Dame Basilica.
When I saw him, I was being pushed in my wheelchair by my father, because the sloping, cobblestone roads had tired me too much to power it myself. The imposing structure of the Basilica came into view from the sidewalk, soaring above us, and there, ahead of us, resting against the thick outer wall, was a man with grizzled gray hair, wearing faded clothes, and holding out a little cup in his hand.
Having lived a fairly sheltered life, I had never seen an actual beggar in person. Homeless people I had seen with their shopping carts downtown, but they were not beggars because they didn’t ask for anything. This man, however, this old bearded man with beautiful, wide-open eyes was holding out a little begging bowl, silently requesting someone, anyone, to help him.
What I Did
My cousin, an inhabitant of Montréal, was walking ahead of us and obviously saw the beggar, but didn’t stop walking and passed right in front of him. My parents followed suit, and so, I did too, literally pushed along with them. Perhaps they were thinking that any money given to the man could be used to buy alcohol or drugs and they didn’t want to take part in enabling his habit, but this thought didn’t occur to me.
In my youthful idealism, the sight of the beggar was a call to action. My immediate impulse was to put something into the old man’s cup, to do something for him, to at least give him my coin-sized care. In order to act on this, however, I would’ve had to stand out from my little group of people: asking my father to stop pushing my wheelchair and to take some money out of my bag to put in the little begging bowl. Easy enough, but thinking about the reactions of my group, I intimidated myself.
Of course I knew that my parents and cousin would think warmly of me if I asked to put money in the beggar’s cup. But that’s precisely what I didn’t want. I felt like a little girl, like any little child who gleefully wants to put money in every donation bucket that she sees. I still looked like a child, and often still felt like a child because I had to be cared for by my parents, but I was supposed to be an adult and I wanted to walk, so to speak, in the company of adults, not sticking out as the child among them.
Giving in to my pride and cowardice, I chose to go along with the crowd—a rather childish thing to do.
As I passed directly in front of the beggar and looked into his sky-blue eyes, it was as if we were both suspended in a chasm of time where I felt, where I knew, that I was about to pass by an irretrievable moment, an irreplaceable something. He did not look down at me, his gaze remaining straight and above me, and perhaps this was what made me look up to him so completely, experiencing the lowness of my place, as though I were down on my knees, dejected there on the pavement.
Broken away from that moment, I squirmed and fought myself to ask to turn back. But I didn’t. I let my childlike desire to help go unspoken, and as the beggar receded further and further into the background, I didn’t experience remorse so much as petulance. Like a petulant child, I thought only about my inabilities, placing fault on the others beside me while really angry with myself.
Brother Masseo went by the way murmuring within himself, saying: “What is this that this good man hath done? Me he made to turn round and round like a little child, and to the bishop who hath done him such honour, he hath said not even a word, nor given him thanks withal ”; and to Brother Masseo it seemed that Saint Francis had borne himself therein without discretion.
But anon by divine inspiration coming to himself again, and chiding himself within his heart, Brother Masseo said: “Thou art too proud, who dost judge the works of God, and art worthy of hell for thy undiscerning pride; for yesterday did Brother Francis work such mighty works that, if the Angel of God had wrought them, they had not been more marvellous : wherefore, if he had bidden thee throw stones, thou shouldst have done it and obeyed: for what he did upon the way proceeded forth of God’s own working, as was set forth by the good ending that followed thereon; for had he not made peace between those that were at strife with each other, not only many bodies would have been stabbed to death, as had indeed begun to be, but many souls also the devil would have dragged to hell: wherefore most foolish art thou and proud that murmurest at that which manifestly cometh forth from out the will of God.”
And all these things that Brother Masseo spake within his heart, going on in front, were revealed of God unto Saint Francis. Wherefore Saint Francis, coming close up to him, spake thus: “Hold fast the things that now are in thy thoughts, for they are good and useful and inspired of God ; but thy first murmuring was blind and vain and proud, and by the devil set within thy mind.”
Thereby did Brother Masseo clearly see that Saint Francis knew the secrets of his heart, and for a surety understand that the spirit of divine wisdom did guide the holy father in all his acts.
Saint Francis remained alone: and sith there was no dwelling-place whereto he might betake him, he entered into a close thicket which many a thorny bush and shrub had fashioned like a cave or little hut: and in this place he gave himself up to prayer and contemplation of the things of heaven. And there abode he all the Lent, nor eating nor drinking aught save half of one of those small loaves, even as was found by his devoted follower on Holy Thursday, what time that he came back to him; who found of the two loaves one still entire, but of the other, half.
So men believe that Saint Francis took no food from reverence for the fast of Christ the blessed one, who fasted forty days and forty nights without partaking any earthly food ; but
in this manner with that half a loaf chased far the venom of vain glory from him, and after the pattern of Christ kept fast for forty days and forty nights.
Thereafter in that place where Saint Francis had wrought such wondrous abstinence, through his merits did God work many miracles; for the which cause did men begin to build houses there and dwell therein; and in brief space uprose a hamlet fair and great and therewithal a House for the brothers, the which is named the House of the Island; and even to this day the men and women of that hamlet have great reverence and devotion for the place where Saint Francis kept the aforesaid Lent.
Move forward a few Centuries, and you can visit the island on pilgrimage. This is what Sister Frances Teresa wrote for us about her visit to the Island: ‘When Francis was there for Lent it may have been a lot tougher. The tradition is that he went on Shrove Tuesday with two loaves and returned on Maundy Thursday with one and a half. I had eaten mine by 2pm!!’