Today we remember Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, father, it was supposed, of Jesus. He was also a craftsman, a faithful believer, a refugee from oppressive political power. As with Joseph, the path we are to follow may not be smooth; after all we are called to ‘make his paths straight’, which may mean some heavy lifting, or possibly walking single file, looking out for nettles, brambles, puddles, mud and stumbling stones.
Here is a blessing for today, from the Church of England:
Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you,
scatter the darkness from before your path,
and make you ready to meet him when he comes in glory;
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
Who has not found the heaven below
Will fail of it above.
God's residence is next to mine,
His furniture is love.
A note on the same theme as Stefan's of yesterday. If we don't have room for our neighbours, how can we have room for Jesus?
We should recognise and pray for people who tend towards hopelessness, if only some of the time. This is Emily Dickinson.
At least to pray is left, is left. O Jesus! in the air I know not which thy chamber is, — I ‘m knocking everywhere.
Thou stirrest earthquake in the South, And maelstrom in the sea; Say, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Hast thou no arm for me?”
Or as the Old Song has it:
If you get there before I do,
Just dig a hole and pull me through.
And Jesus got there first, so sing this directly to Him! Remember his words:
Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.
(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete
I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven's gate,
Built in Jerusalem's wall.
On our last L’Arche pilgrimage, those of us at the back of the group were following, not a golden string but arrows chalked on the pavement by the children. Who would not jump at the chance to draw graffiti across a town without getting into trouble? Only in the woods did we need some imagination to read the arrows they had created from sticks and stones.
In Dover town I ended up walking with P, who was happy enough to be walking way behind everyone else. Carrying the banner helped him concentrate on moving along. But we had to stop along the riverbank to watch the Dover ducks, who were quacking loudly. So I quacked back, quietly and politely, and so did P.
But my stomach was rumbling, and that golden string was going to snap if we lost touch with everyone else.
Soon a search party came to chivvy us along, so that we got to Kearsney Abbey park before all the food was gone. That was important to both of us!
Who knows where their golden string will lead them, on the way to Heaven’s gate? Blake’s picture shows us a woman walking beneath the White Cliffs and looking up to where her string is leading her. He does not show how our personal strings ravel together. Those weavings, knots, stitches, embroidery and tangles are part of each of our life’s journey, part of our shared pilgrimage, helping each other to find the way; as P and I did, one morning in Dover.
O Lord our God, Grant us the grace to desire you with our whole heart; that desiring, we may seek, and, seeking, find you; and finding you, may love you; and loving you, may hate those sins from which you have redeemed us. Amen
Anselm is remembered by Anglicans and Catholics alike.
More than 200 years ago Dr Johnson was visiting Scotland, and commented often on the desolation caused by the lack of trees. It’s taken the climate emergency for action to be taken but that action is paying off. First, Dr Johnson: “It is natural, in traversing this gloom of desolation, to inquire, whether something may not be done to give nature a more cheerful face, and whether those hills and moors that afford heath cannot with a little care and labour bear something better? The first thought that occurs is to cover them with trees, for that in many of these naked regions trees will grow, is evident, because stumps and roots are yet remaining; and the speculatist hastily proceeds to censure that negligence and laziness that has omitted for so long a time so easy an improvement. To drop seeds into the ground, and attend their growth, requires little labour and no skill. He who remembers that all the woods, by which the wants of man have been supplied from the Deluge till now, were self-sown, will not easily be persuaded to think all the art and preparation necessary, which the Georgick writers prescribe to planters. Trees certainly have covered the earth with very little culture. They wave their tops among the rocks of Norway, and might thrive as well in the Highlands and Hebrides.
He that calculates the growth of trees, has the unwelcome remembrance of the shortness of life driven hard upon him. He knows that he is doing what will never benefit himself; and when he rejoices to see the stem rise, is disposed to repine that another shall cut it down. Plantation is naturally the employment of a mind unburdened with care, and vacant to futurity, saturated with present good, and at leisure to derive gratification from the prospect of posterity. He that pines with hunger, is in little care how others shall be fed. The poor man is seldom studious to make his grandson rich. It may be soon discovered, why in a place, which hardly supplies the cravings of necessity, there has been little attention to the delights of fancy, and why distant convenience is unregarded, where the thoughts are turned with incessant solicitude upon every possibility of immediate advantage.
from “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Samuel Johnson)
Continuing our exploration of ‘heart’ in the Bible. Mostly it speaks of human hearts.
In the desert on the way to the Promised Land, Moses is addressing the people on God’s behalf. He tells them the consequences of not keeping the commandments that should be written in their hearts.
I call this day heaven and earth to witness, that you shall quickly perish out of the land, which, when you have passed over the Jordan, you shall possess. You shall not dwell therein long, but the Lord will destroy you, and scatter you among all nations, and you shall remain a few among the nations, to which the Lord shall lead you. And there you shall serve gods, that were framed with men’s hands: wood and stone, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.
And when thou shalt seek there the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him: yet so, if thou seek him with all thy heart, and all the affliction of thy soul. After all the things aforesaid shall and thee, in the latter time thou shalt return to the Lord thy God, and shalt hear his voice because the Lord thy God is a merciful God: he will not leave thee, nor altogether destroy thee, nor forget the covenant, by which he swore to thy fathers.
We don’t know the answer to ‘What if …?’ But perhaps we should admit that it is all too easy to serve gods that were framed with human hands: money, fame, fashion in clothes or other goods; praise from other people; revenge. And what if we set aside those quests? Would we be more relaxed, would we be happier, more fulfilled? We’ll never know unless we try. But we are promised; when thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him. It might be in a very tight corner indeed, but he will not leave thee, nor altogether destroy thee. In dark times, hold on to that promise .