A WRITER so wants to write about this. But the light and the music and the girl and the dance tell their own story. Let the writer be stilled then. Let the writer contemplate being contemplated. Let the writer watch and pray today …
I’VE BEEN playing with colour (when not fast asleep) during a lazy hazy relaxing Easter holiday week in the Lake District. Here the colours have been changing moment by moment, and today I’m reflecting – as it’s time to head South and “back to work” - on the gift of colour in our lives, and the ever-changing spectrum; upon the goodness, the generosity of it if you like. Life could have been given to us in greyscale, or just plain black and white. In middle age I’m finding that I like, more and more, to use the whole pallet in the artistry of life, and sometimes just to splash a bit of colour about here and there with a sort of relaxed abandon! And the English Lake District is one glorious area in which to glory in the spectrum. God is good!
I’VE MADE HUNDREDS of photos of Spring tulips over the years. Though times are still chilly – even the threat of frost still in the night air – there’s also the promise of warmer, lighter days. A generous-hearted someone has planted bulbs at the busy roadside. This flower’s gentle nodding in the breeze is an invitation, “breathe: be aware”. The tulip’s early translucent form and almost tentative opening to the light speaks to me of infinite tenderness, the gentlest and most mindful of healing touches, extraordinary “purposeless” liberality, and the intimate and eternal gift to our lives of Life’s Divine care.
SALISBURY has loomed into half a dozen conversations this week, and I’ve been reflecting upon how unimaginably blessed I was as I spent 3 years reading theology and preparing for ordination there 30+ years ago. My rooms had a lovely view of the Cathedral. Floodlit at night, it was reflected in my open bedroom window. Life in The Close was just perfect for a theological student. I still wear the beautiful embroidered alb, made for me there by Ada Gething, a wonderful, blind, lady – well into her eighties at the time.
And my reflections follow several conversations with people who have told me, ruefully, “I don’t feel I’ve deserved this, that or the other blessing”. And I know for sure that nothing I’ve ever done deserved the gift of Salisbury – or the gift of life. Not deserved. Not earned. Nothing given, or witheld, for “good” or “bad” behaviour. Grace upon grace lovingly given … that’s how it is with God. And I must seek to follow the Divine example …
THE FULL HOUSE for the joy-filled Baptism of Maximilian this morning gives me (another) opportunity to head up this post with my very favourite account, by a simply wonderful narrator, of Jesus’ Baptism! But more than that, it’s always such a joy when our House for the Church is full of people come to celebrate the goodness of God and the richness of the gifts we revel in. And there’s no greater gift to a family than that of an infant. Nor, perhaps, any greater responsibility laid upon older shoulders. Bringing infants to Baptism in and into the House of the Lord provides glorious opportunity for all of us to reflect upon the giftedness and gratuitousness of our lives, upon our hopes and our aspirations, what – in co-creating with, and in, and surrounded by God – we want to make of our world, our humanity, our society, our church – for Maximilian, for ourselves, and for God.
“I baptise with water”, said John the Baptist. One who will come after me will baptise with Holy Spirit. And so it came to pass. Today and every day humankind is baptised “new every morning” by the Spirit of Divine Grace and Love. Perhaps that’s why Maximilian and his wonderful parents were smiling so much in our sacramental celebration of the fact this morning. Perhaps that’s why people had travelled from far and wide to celebrate the gift and the treasure. Yes! – wherever and whenever humankind is “baptised” in the Spirit of God we can rest assured that the Source of our Life continues to turn the world upside down. “Whoever has seen (this human) me has seen the Father” said the anointed Jesus to Philip. And this morning he might have said “whoever has seen Maximilian has seen the Father”. What a joy, what a commission, what a responsibility – this living of the Life and Love of God in and through each one of us, dear created people.
Mother and Father, Sister and Brother of us all,
in company with Jesus,
in the power of your Spirit,
with prophets, priests and royal leaders,
and with every woman, man and child
upon the face of the earth,
we bless you for the gift of life and of abundance.
And as we bless you we also ask
your blessing for ourselves that we may be
inspired, strengthened and encouraged daily
to share that life and that abundance
throughout the world.
WELL, I DIDN’T CATCH A PHOTO today, too busy with the vicaring. But, lovely as I’m sure the official photos will turn out to be, nobody present at Simon & Sarah’s wedding today would need a photo to remind them of the palpable excitement in the air, and in both of them. And I do believe that that kind of excitement changes the world. It’s infectious, it’s beautiful, it’s delightful, it’s faith-full, it’s hopeful, it hints at the fullness of life and it challenges dreary acceptance of dull mediocrity. And they and we need to maintain it with our every prayer.
And I wonder whether even excitement has at its genesis that old word “repent” that keeps cropping up in lives that are even a bit religiously-minded. Repent, I mean, as I’ve meant before, in the turning around sense of the word, the change of attitude of mind sense of the word. Have excited people simply decided to meet life in this world head on? Have excited people observed that life in this world is marvellous and extraordinary? I think they have. And excitement may be found even in sad, difficult or tragic situations. I remember, still humbled and grateful, a conversation I had with a paraplegic when I was a very young teenager. “I’ve been bedridden for most of my life”, Frank said, “but though my temper wanes on occasions there’s never been a day when I haven’t woken up with excitement, and given thanks to God for the pure gift of being alive. Listen to those birds …”
I’ve been thinking about what I have to be excited about today, and could fill several pages of a journal, could paint pictures, make photographs, dream dreams. As can all of us when we “turn around” and think about it. When we reach out to Life, and life, with both hands and full hearts. May Simon & Sarah ever remain excited, and may they know themselves blessed. And may their excitement continue to engender further excitement in others. And may yours, and mine, too.
IT’S WHAT NATIONS WANT, on the larger canvases, and what individual persons want, on the smaller ones. Nations like yours and mine. People like you and me. Minds without fear … heads held high … where knowledge is free. “I do not put my faith in institutions”, wrote Rabindranath Tagore, “but in individuals all over the world who think clearly, feel nobly and act rightly. They are the channels of moral truth”. Winner of the The Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1913, the citation read … “author of Gitanjali and its ‘profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse’”. It’s what nations want, and persons want. And Tagore encapsulated the desire in a prayer:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action -
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
born in Calcutta, 7th May 1861
died there, aged 80, 7th August 1941
Egypt. Libya. Just two among the many peoples of the world who, yearning to know, yearning to be free, have taken the risk to stand up, to stand out, and to make their peaceful dreams known. And then there’s you and me, people of faith, peacefully seeking our own way to be free. “Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection”. This is what faith, this is what love, this is what life is for. “Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action”.
I mentioned the other day that I’ve been reading Gerald G May’s The Awakened Heart. He and Tagore are kindred spirits. “We dull and occupy ourselves so completely”, says May, “that we stifle our desire, anesthetize our yearning, restrict the energy of our passion”. Can we imagine a day, and better than just imagining, can we pray with Tagore for the living of Life “Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.”? “It is truly a matter of choice”, to return to Gerald May. “From love’s perspective, everything is a matter of choice”. This is grace. A risky business for Egypt, for Libya, for you and me. But this is grace. Gift. It’s what we’re all stretching out our arms for. Grace, pure gift, makes it possible for hearts, here and now in this world, to have a foretaste of what it means to be free. And beyond the grace given to us in this world? I hope to to know Grace, “the depth of truth”, with Tagore and May, in eternity.
TODAY I MET ANOTHER MEMBER of my family: the human family that is. And incidentally we share the same family name, together with a love for retreat houses and what goes on within them, and Pat’s forthcoming visit to Glenfall House brings joy to my heart as I recall the depths (the highs and the lows) of a long silent retreat there many years ago … blessed a thousandfold by the gifts that flowed fresh from a wonderful herb-garden, a glorious kitchen, and fluted white china coffee pots at breakfast! And from the silence itself? – an extraordinary intimacy with fellow retreatants with whom one had hardly spoken more than a few words. A knowing that lies beyond language. A faith possessed of what Pat was to come to call Profound Simplicity. It’s a lovely thought that we may meet someday at Glenfall House. But until then we’ll meet and know in the silence, and in my returning to her glorious, knowing, praying poetry. Thanks Pat Marsh … and to all the beloved people who know me, and allow me to know them, in simplicity’s silences.
as washing one another’s feet
Lord, forgive us
when we make discipleship
that was never
how you taught it
when I search your gospel teachings
I discover nothing more
and nothing less
than great simplicity
a basin and a towel
bread and wine
a simple touch
a word of forgiveness
a rhythm of prayer
take nothing for the journey
a grain of wheat
a mustard seed
the profound simplicity
as washing another’s feet
when we complicate discipleship
help us instead
to simply serve
out of your great love
IF WE ARE CALLED BY GOD to holiness of life and if holiness is beyond our natural power to achieve (which it certainly is) then it follows that God himself must give us the light, the strength and the courage to fulfil the task he requires of us. He will certainly give us the grace we need. If we do not become saints it is because we do not avail ourselves of his gift.