In the Book of Job, 22, his friend, Eliphaz the Temanite says:
“Can a man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless? “
Job’s comforters have a bad press, indeed Blake, who engraved our image calls them ‘tormentors’. But even if it’s the wrong time and place for it, Eliphaz has a point for us, if not for Job! As Rowan Williams puts it in his discussion on William Tyndale:
Any system of religious activity and thinking that tries to give us some leverage over God – I’ve never denied God a moment of my time, I hope he remembers that – such an attitude is poisonous to our faith.
We create religious institutions that are designed to preserve that divine indebtedness to us, and while we are doing that, we largely ignore the concrete forms of indebtedness toward other human beings to which we should be attending.*
ALL IS GIFT!
Accept the gift of your life, accept that it is a gift, be thankful for every breath! God did not have to bring you into being, and if you suffer, remember that so too did Jesus, his Son. Suffering is shared by God.
Alfred Joyce Kilmer put it this way in his Prayer of a Soldier in France:
My shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).
Please follow this link to our post from July last year for the whole poem, written shortly before Kilmer’s death in battle. He concludes:
So let me render back again
This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.
The gift is the redemptive suffering of Jesus; allying our suffering to his is to set ourselves in sympathy with Jesus; so if personal suffering is a gift, that is because of how we receive it, endure it, live it: through him, with him and in him. Him being the one who prayed: O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:29)
* Rowan Williams: Luminaries: Twenty lives that illuminate the Christian Way, London SPCK 2019. p54
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!
The room is still but for the ticking clock
and like a snowfall stillness settles round,
and in come presences that needn’t knock,
familiar, homing souls, without a sound.
It isn’t always so – so calm, so quiet,
but now the gentle spirits take their ease
as afternoon melts into shadowed night
and birds seek shelter in the darkening trees.
As night advances, sky turns indigo
and slate-grey clouds in bundles fill the east.
I watch. I seem alone, but I’m with you –
my brothers, sisters summoned to the feast.
In solitude I know that we are one.
In solitude I hear the bridegroom come.
Definitely a poem for All Saints’ Tide. Thank you Sister Johanna!
Diwali is celebrated in these cold Islands, far from India where it originated. People from the Subcontinent also ended up in Trinidad and Tobago across the Atlantic where this reflection comes from. Follow the link to an interesting Independent Catholic News article by Leela Ramdeen, who grew up a Hindu father and Catholic mother.
Prince Charles represented his mother, the Queen, and the whole United Kingdom at the Canonisation of John Henry Newman. Here is an extract from Prince Charles’s reflection on the occasion; the full text can be found at the Independent Catholic News.
Whatever our own beliefs, and no matter what our own tradition may be, we can only be grateful to Newman for the gifts, rooted in his Catholic faith, which he shared with wider society: his intense and moving spiritual autobiography and his deeply-felt poetry in ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ which, set to music by Sir Edward Elgar – another Catholic of whom all Britons can be proud – gave the musical world one of its most enduring choral masterpieces.
At the climax of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ the soul, approaching heaven, perceives something of the divine vision:
a grand mysterious harmony:
It floods me, like the deep and solemn sound
Of many waters.
Harmony requires difference. The concept rests at the very heart of Christian theology in the concept of the Trinity. In the same poem, Gerontius says:
Firmly I believe and truly
God is three, and God is One;
As such, difference is not to be feared. Newman not only proved this in his theology and illustrated it in his poetry, but he also demonstrated it in his life. Under his leadership, Catholics became fully part of the wider society, which itself thereby became all the richer as a community of communities.
“And altogether, I may say that the earth looks the brighter to me in proportion to my own deprivations. The laburnum trees and rose trees are plucked up by the roots—but the sunshine is in their places, and the root of the sunshine is above the storms.
What we call Life is a condition of the soul, and the soul must improve in happiness and wisdom, except by its own fault. These tears in our eyes, these faintings of the flesh, will not hinder such improvement.”*
London of 1846 looked rather different to what lies under the stormy sky see here. Elizabeth’s house would have been behind the towers to the left, Robert lived a few miles away to our left; the trains that made travelling easier for him to visit her, and the penny post, were new technology then; our couple were bang up to date in their relationship!
I’m not sure I totally agree with EBB that the soul must improve in happiness and wisdom, except by its own fault, So many people have been too badly hurt to accept whatever help they need, even when it is offered. The sun may have to shine above their clouds for some time before breaking through.
But she is right that in the long term: tears, trials and tribulations will not hinder our growth, though we may need God’s grace and other people to help us through them. Christianity is not primarily a self-improvement course!
*Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning. (from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning; available on line)
Elizabeth Barrett is writing to Robert Browning:
“But to be written to is the chief gladness of course; and with all you say of liking to have my letters (which I like to hear quite enough indeed) you cannot pretend to think that yours are not more to me, most to me! Ask my guardian-angel and hear what he says! Yours will look another way for shame of measuring joys with him! Because as I have said before, and as he says now, you are all to me, all the light, all the life; I am living for you now.
And before I knew you, what was I and where? What was the world to me, do you think? and the meaning of life? And now, when you come and go, and write and do not write, all the hours are chequered accordingly in so many squares of white and black, as if for playing at fox and goose … only there is no fox, and I will not agree to be goose for one … that is you perhaps, for being ‘too easily’ satisfied. So my claim is that you are more to me than I can be to you.“
A running joke between two people who are totally sure of each other, and will soon elope to Italy as man and wife despite Elizabeth’s father. But letters between friends – we have few excuses for not whizzing off the occasional email to arrive in Australia or Zambia almost before it’s left the keyboard. Of course they may never be collated into two volumes for public consumption; let our emails be private and let the recipient decide whether to keep them.
And letters from our Creator are there for us, via Paul, Peter, John, Jude; and really in all of the Bible. No need to get up from the computer and find a hard copy, two clicks and the Scripture is there at our fingertips in many languages.
We can answer God’s messages by going to Universalis for the daily prayer of the Church. We are spoilt children, though Elizabeth Barrett was receiving two or three posts per day in central London, compared to just one today.
Who are you going to write to today, this minute, to incite gladness?
And let’s say thank you for human ingenuity and information technology. Which includes the pens and paper that RB and EBB enthused about occasionally!
(from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning) From Project Gutenberg
Angel – God’s messenger – from St Mary Magdalene, Davington, Kent.