Tag Archives: thought

14 June: and yet …

Aberdaron Beach, below the church where RS Thomas was parish priest.

Yesterday, it seemed to me, the Anglican priest Thomas Traherne made the consolations of the spiritual life seem so readily available. Today, it seems as though those consolations can be very distant, beyond my grasp. My go-to bard for such moments of faithful doubt is another Anglican priest, the Welsh poet, RS Thomas. You could open his Collected Poems* almost at random and find the wrangled wisdom of a faithful doubter, a committed questioner. Faith, as to be fair Traherne said the other day, demands effort. Here is an extract from RS’s poem Inside.

... Inside me, 
stalactite and stalagmite,
ideas have formed and become
rigid. To the crowd 
I am all outside.
To the pot-holing few there is a way
in along passages that become
narrower and narrower,
that lead to the chamber
too low to stand up in,
where the breath condenses
to the cold and locationless
cloud we call truth. It 
is where I think.

Ideas have formed and become rigid: it’s the rigidity that stifles us. And then when RS Thomas reaches the chamber at the centre of his being he is forced to his knees. This is the ‘cloud we call truth’, and there will be times when we are given a glimpse of the light that lies beyond, sometimes through thought and meditation, sometimes as pure, unexpected, inexplicable gift.

The children building sand castles in the rain at Aberdaron were enjoying the moment together, despite the cold cloud raining over them. Let’s pray for the grace to live in the moment and to live in hope and truth.

*R.S. Thomas, Collected Poems, 1945-1990, London, Phoenix.

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16 February: Today this is my vocation XIV: The humble generosity of books.

Some people’s vocation goes on past their own lifetime. Think of what we owe to writers from 3,000 years ago and more. This is part of a conversation between Joy Clarkson of Plough magazine and the writer Alan Jacobs, who is speaking here. The whole conversation can be found here, on the Plough website. It is wide-ranging, we could easily have chosen among many other paragraphs as our appetiser. Today the ongoing work of a writer, perhaps long-dead; tomorrow the work of the visual artist.

There is [a] kind of humble generosity to libraries and books. They’re always ready to accommodate themselves to us. We have so much control over our encounters with books. If a book frustrates us, we can walk away. We can never pick it up again. We can take a book and throw it out the door if we want to. We can put it in the trash or we can just put it on the shelf and come back to it later, or we can just devour the whole thing. At times like that, we feel like we’re so caught up that we’re almost not choosing anymore. But we know at the back of our minds that we really do have some control over all of this and, as a result, it lowers our blood pressure.

And it’s a human connection. A book can be an incredibly powerful conversation partner, but it enables us to deal with ideas in our own way and at our own pace. That’s especially important when the ideas are challenging to us or maybe even offensive to us. We can set a book aside, calm down, and come back to it and think about it and think about what our answer is to it.

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1 September, Season of Creation II: The gift to be simple I? Not for me!

‘Plain living and high thinking’ are not popular ideals.  Most people prefer to live in luxury, and to think with the majority.

If we run a series of posts for the season of Creation which starts today, it could easily become a bad-tempered, five week long rant. So let’s at least approach the season light-heartedly, with a wise word from Oscar, a reminder of what we are up against in our own selves.

Oscar Wilde from “A Critic in Pall Mall”

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14 July, Traherne XLVI: The soul is made for action

It is an indelible principle of Eternal truth, 
that practice and exercise is the Life of all. 

Should God give you worlds, and laws, and treasures, 
and worlds upon worlds, 
and Himself also in the Divinest manner, 
if you will be lazy and not meditate, you lose all. 

The soul is made for action, 
and cannot rest till it be employed. 
Idleness is its rust. 
Unless it will up and think and taste and see, 
all is in vain.

A pilgrimage is practice and exercise for body and soul. This summer, may I up and think and taste and see – a pilgrim even if only in the familiar streets of my home town. Ponder:

The soul cannot rest till it be employed.

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20 June, Today this is my vocation, VII: an Island Girl prays upon a June morning.

No rainbow without sunshine! The Skye bridge is a new gateway to the isles.

Over the coming weeks, we will be introducing prayers and reflections from Alistair Maclean’s Hebridean Altars, pearls he harvested from the people of the Isles, a hundred years and more ago. This Island Girl’s prayer fits neatly into our sideways look at vocation in the everyday, as well as belonging in this month’s postings.

This day, I say to myself,
is Thy love-gift to me.
This dawn,
White with the purity of Thy mind,
I take it, Lord, from Thy hand,
and, for the wonder of it,
I give Thee thanks.
Make me busy in Thy service
throughout its hours,
yet not so busy that I cannot sing
a happy song.
And may the South wind
blow its tenderness through my heart
so that I may bear myself gently to all.
And may the sunshine of it
pass into my thoughts,
so that each shall be 
a picture of Thy thought, 
and noble and right.

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8 February: Doctor Johnson on slavery and Roman Civilisation.

Boswell writes: In his review of the ‘Memoirs of the Court of Augustus,’ [Samuel Johnson] has the resolution to think and speak from his own mind, regardless of the cant transmitted from age to age, in praise of the ancient Romans. Thus,

‘I know not why any one but a school-boy in his declamation should whine over the Common-wealth of Rome, which grew great only by the misery of the rest of mankind. The Romans, like others, as soon as they grew rich, grew corrupt; and in their corruption sold the lives and freedoms of themselves, and of one another.’

Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765 by James Boswell.

Even the convinced imperialist John Buchan, recognised that: ‘The existence of a subject race on whatever terms is apt to lead to the deterioration in moral and mental vigour of its masters.’1 And we see today, if we look, all manner of slavery, or almost slavery, cheap and forced labour, land degradation, poor health and safety.

Today is the Feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, liberated slave and religious sister.

1Buchan A Lodge in the Wilderness Chapter XIV The Subject Races.

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1 July: Thank you.

Sometimes this blog wanders where the Spirit takes us – trusting that we are listening properly – sometimes we have a theme or pattern in mind, causing us to think rather than just feel good and complacent. I, Will, from time to time reread something and ask, Did I really write that? Am I so comfortable as that? And then a paragraph is added, or one is altered or taken away.

Today’s message is, I am sure, one that the Spirit would want us to send out: thank you to all our followers and more occasional readers for reading, and liking, and following us; I write on behalf of all our contributors. It’s good mental and spiritual exercise to produce a concise reflection on a passage from Scripture, a poem, an event from my own life or the news. Please stay with us and send us a ‘like’ or a comment from time to time.

And have a blessed summer!

Will T and Co.

A lane in Herefordshire.

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15 June, Heart VI: An angry young man.

The Wrath of Elihu, William Blake.

Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. Who gave him charge over the earth, and who laid on him the whole world? If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.”

Who’s speaking here? Who is defending Almighty God? This is when the Book of Job suddenly jolts. Elihu bursts in, full of wrath, full of anger, at the thoughts expressed by Job’s friends. They are blaming Job for being wicked, despite appearances, and deserving every misfortune that has come his way, or else blaming God for being unjust to Job.

We saw how the editors of Exodus wrote that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart – and also that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. God could be said to have made Pharaoh’s heart hard because he created him in the first place. You sense that Elihu would not stand for such hair-splitting. ‘God will not do wickedly.’

Who is this Elihu? He’ s not one of the original cast, he just bursts in. Some have suggested that he is the actual writer if the book, giving his own thoughts and opinions. He’s an ‘angry young man’ with no time for what he sees as interminable, sterile philosophising. Here William Blake shows him as young, not set in his ways (or other people’s ways) and naked: he’s naked because he is innocent – like Adam and Eve were before the fall, not diminishing God through overthinking.

God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. We are capable of both.

From “The Holy Bible, English Standard Version by Crossway Bibles, via Kindle

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14 December, Alice Meynell: a child’s imaginative life.

aberdaron.children.digging

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.”

Alice Meynell

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.

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19 November: The King III, Over to Jesus.

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We are looking at the Jesus-Pilate dialogue occurring towards the end of the Gospel of John (John 18:28f.) in order to explore what it may tell us about Jesus’ kingship. Pilate is clueless about Jesus and his teaching, but as the situation progresses, some important aspects of Jesus’ person and identity gradually, if incompletely, come home to Pilate. Perhaps by watching this process, we may discover something new about Jesus, also.

The dialogue has barely begun, but Pilate has already exposed his impatience with the entire affair – a fact which in itself was insulting, and must have registered as such with Jesus. Pilate asks Jesus bluntly, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’

We have noted above that Pilate, as governor of Judea, acted as a supreme judge in his district. Therefore he alone had the authority to impose the death sentence, which is what the Jewish leaders who handed Jesus over want Pilate to do. Jesus’ arrest and trial so far have gone on all night and it is now morning. Jesus must be exhausted, but his response to Pilate’s question is not in the least expressive of the mental derangement which Pilate probably hoped to find in him and which might have made his task so much easier. Jesus, in answer to Pilate, asks a question of his own: ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others said it to you about me?’

Astonishing question. What can Jesus mean by it? Jesus knows his hour had come. His question cannot have been an attempt to gain time in order to plot his escape. It can only have come from his awareness of Pilate as a human being in need of salvation. Although Jesus has already been insulted by Pilate’s manner, it is never his way to return insult for insult. As always, Jesus is reaching for the deepest level of the person to whom he is speaking: he wants Pilate to question Pilate, if not now, then perhaps later. Jesus’ thirst for souls is never quenched, never shelved, forgotten, or given up. To his last breath he is offering salvation to all. Jesus sees clearly that Pilate, on one level, is a man to be pitied. He is a puppet of higher political powers. History suggests that probably most of Judea regarded Pilate as an inept governor, always acting with one eye turned towards those who might be watching him, and rarely, if ever, acting, or even thinking, without being jerked into position by those puppet strings. Jesus, however, seems to pay Pilate the compliment of taking him seriously as an independent thinker, able to lay claim to his own actions and respond to him from within his own centre of freedom.

But, this compliment is lost on Pilate, seemingly. He knows that others are pulling his strings, and although he hates it, he thinks that getting more power for himself will solve his problems. He will allow himself to be a puppet to any degree if this seems to be the most effective way of eventually obtaining more power. Power is what everything is about for Pilate; it is the mental ‘lens’ through which he views everything he does. Naturally, his conversation with Jesus is coloured by these preoccupations.

But, as far as Jesus is concerned, the preoccupations are entirely other. The conversation with Pilate, in Jesus’ view, is about truth and freedom. What will Pilate make of this man?

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